Word of the Week! Resolution

Resolution SignAfter 30 years working for the university, I’ve seen many instances of what we’d call “resolve” among groups of students and faculty. But never before in my career here has there existed such a profound sense of resolution. We resolved to make it through a pandemic year and stand up for the rights of black students on campus, by challenging a tone-deaf decision to retain names of buildings honoring a segregationist who supported eugenics as well as a slave-holder.

I’m proud of our determination, or strong wills, or resolve. So where did the word “resolution” get this meaning? It was around a long time before The OED notes its first use in 1594 meaning as “firmness or steadfastness of purpose.”

Of Franco-Latin etymology, the term has instances from medical or chemical parlance dating back another 200 years. I refer you to the ample description of the word origin at the link above.

Our term still resonates well today. We “hereby resolve” in official documents; we sign documents that constitute “a resolution.” In fact, we act in a real-life drama that resembles the “climax or denouement of a play, novel, or other narrative work, in which plot elements are brought to a conclusion,” as The OED entry explains.

Things are not fully resolved on campus, but I’m confident that we’ll see a full resolution of the issues before us next year. It felt quite good to be part of something in a small way historic nationally, but on campus, momentous indeed.

The blog will continue occasionally (I’m writing a book proposal) all summer, but please send us words and metaphors useful in academic writing by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Creative Commons image courtesy of Picpedia.

Word of the Week! Ford

Old Ford Inn, WalesI don’t mean the vehicle in your driveway: our word predates by at least 1000 years Henry Ford’s horseless carriage and all that came from it. While of little use in academic prose, the word demonstrates the history of an everyday word made nearly obsolete by bridges. You may have sat in or driven a Ford, but when was the last time you crossed at a ford, to ford a river?

Decades back (time flies) I dined in the pub of a roadside Inn in rural Wales called “The Old Ford Inn.” It’s a charmer and it’s still around. When you tour the Brecon Beacons area, be sure to stop in.

My snapshot of the sign was on film, since it proved to be the last vacation taken without a digital camera (now, my phone does that duty). I well recall an image showing a Model T Ford motorcar crossing a stream at a shallow spot: the original meaning for a ford, both noun and verb.

The term dates to the Middle Ages, and the term was also “ford” in Old English. Variants include “vord” (Middle English) and “forde.” All indicate a shallow place for crossing a river. See the OED entry for examples.

It remains mysterious how the surname “Ford” emerged. For people who lived near a ford? Or were the first fords ford-keepers, as there were smiths, carpenters, tailors, shoemakers, tinkers, and leathermen? All these trades, and variants of them, became surnames when such things originated. Peter Ackroyd’s excellent history, London: The Biography discusses the emergence after the Norman Conquest of 1066. Read a bit more at the BBC about the process.

So where did Henry’s ancestors get their last name? A Wikipedia page gets beyond the shallow waters here. Whatever your last name, take a look.

As always, please send us words and metaphors useful in academic writing by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Image courtesy of The Old Ford Inn, Llanhamlach, Brecon. The local lamb, when it’s the roast of the day, is to die for. The same goes for any of the meat pies.

 

Word of the Week! Moxie

moxie soda logoI love this old word, and I’m so out of touch with popular culture that I did not realize that it appears as the title of a 2021 film and a line of dolls.  My life remains complete, but I still like this word. My student John Kurkjian used it in a paper recently, to describe an aspect of heroism that unites the very different characters in the films Hidden Figures and The Right Stuff. John knows a good new vocabulary word when he spies it.

So what on earth is this bit of American Slang? It comes from the trade name of one of America’s first mass-produced soft drinks. From there the beverage loaned its name to personal virtues.  As usual, the OED comes to my rescue, for “Courage, audacity, spirit; energy, vigour; enterprise; skill, shrewdness.” I’ve a feeling we’ll be seeing “moxie” a great deal soon; as with other words that seemed to have fallen into disuse for no good reason, it is primed to make a comeback.

Let’s hope that moxie itself does, too. I don’t drink soda, but I like the values of self-reliance and what gets described with the overused term “grit”; moxie would be a fine companion to them in troubled, uncertain times.

As always, please send us words and metaphors useful in academic writing by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

image source: Wikipedia. It’s from one of the nation’s first mass-produced soft drinks.

 

Word of the Week! Impeach

Andrew Johnson's ImpeachmentForget the Senate trial for a moment. This is not the space to discuss that, anyway. What about the word itself?

It came first to my attention in 1974, when Richard Nixon got impeached in the House of Representatives but resigned before the trial in the Senate.  I kept thinking of the fruit from a peach tree, and that bears no relation to our word. As a verb, “impeach” has a history reaching back to Middle English and Old French, as in this 14th Century usage cited by The OED: “He schal dwelle þere alle his lif, and no man enpeche hym” or “he shall dwell here all his life, and no man impeach him.” A noun form appears in written records about 200 years later.

Originally, the verb could mean “to hinder” or other synonyms. That would be the case for The OED example just now. Verbs signifying “the action of impeachment” gradually narrowed to two meanings still current. One we are using this week means to bring formal charges for an “act of treason or other high crime or misdemeanor” or “to find fault.” A second usage still crops up when we say someone’s conduct or action remains “unimpeachable” or beyond suspicion.

We have other “im-” prefix words in English: “imbibe” and “imply” spring to mind. A quick peek at the OED entries revealed that they share the Medieval roots of our Word of the Week as well as a transition from  -en and -em prefixes to the modern spelling.

Such elder usages and meanings vanish from human memory over time. Other memories do not fade so easily.  I recall well exactly where I was when President Nixon announced his resignation on national television.  A short period of healing followed, too short a time.

To provide a sense of the history of the process for political leaders, the reader may wish to consult a comprehensive history of impeachments, globally, at Wikipedia. Our image comes from their page about President Andrew Johnson’s Senate trial.

Have a word or metaphor you would like covered here? Send them to jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu.See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Word of the Week! Hermit

Simon of the DesertThere’s a caricature of a hermit that used to appear in old cartoons: a beard grown so long it becomes the man’s clothing. He was crazy and lived alone in the wilds. Luis Buñuel, one of my favorite directors, captures the life of a religious hermit in his film Simon of the Desert, using his typically surrealist technique to show how, well, bizarre the life of an early Christian hermit could be.  Of course, the devil appears by in the form of a beautiful woman to taunt and tempt him, until they end up back in civilization, 1965 no less, at a club with a surf-rock band jamming as hipsters dance.

I love that so much, but I digress. Behind me, Satan! Back to words.

We don’t hear the word “hermit” much these days, as “shut-in” and “recluse” seem more apt for those in urban settings. To some degree, however, we are all hermits during this pandemic, which could, as an Atlantic Monthly piece explains, spark interest in a short film about Christopher Knight, the hermit of North Pond, Maine. He fared better than Simon, though he too re-entered our world when arrested after a string of burglaries for food and propane. He managed for 27 years that way in the Maine woods.

Though Knight may be our last known hermit, the term itself has a great deal of endurance. Originally, as the OED entry explains, the word stretches back to the Dark Ages, with Medieval Latin and an earlier Greek term as sources. The “H” appeared later, with earlier instances as “ermite” and similar. By the time of Piers Ploughman, the “H” appeared; not long after, the “e” at the end vanished. Variant spellings came down almost to modern times; Shakespeare has the word as “Hermight,” “Hermit,” and “Ermite” in different plays! In fact, looking over the OED entries demonstrates how powerfully English has evolved. Or how little we cared for spelling then. You choose.

Yet hermits remain the same. They continue to appeal to some of us, repel others. Solitude can be good medicine, but too much of it? That’s one reason why Knight’s story continues to interest readers, viewers, and his former, involuntary neighbors.

We welcome dispatches from your hermitages. Send words and metaphors to jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu. See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

image courtesy of The Institute for Contemporary Arts.

Metaphor of the Month! Hit the Fan

Circulating fanNo, you will not find this one in the OED. Yet this term may not only be sadly relevant for November but also it has a mysterious history. Finally, I find it a writerly challenge to post about a curse-word without cursing. Here goes.

I ran across our metaphor in Martin Clemens‘s nearly lost classic memoir, Alone on Guadalcanal. He was a British “coast watcher” who stayed behind when Imperial Japan occupied the island. After many tribulations, Clemens and his group of indigenous Melanesian scouts met the US Marines, who landed to liberate the island in 1942.

The Marines were in a tight place, being bombed around the clock, subjected to suicide charges, then bombarded by Japanese warships at night. The see-saw war went on for months, on an island ripe for Malaria, known for venomous snakes, and ringed by waters full of sharks. While in the Marine base, Clemens heard and recorded in his diary a bit of American slang that has continued to our day, for when excrement manages to contact a rotating air disperser.

Or something.

The term often gets dated back to Norman Mailer’s excellent, if gritty, novel of the Pacific War, The Naked and the Dead. Clemens’s usage predates Mailer’s, showing the military origin of the metaphor. Gary Martin of Phrase Finder, where a post appeared about our scatological metaphor, found a recorded use in 1943 and notes a possible Canadian origin from the 1930s.

I’m willing to bet that it goes back to the first USMC unit that had an electric fan in their barracks. If you know enlisted Marines, you can imagine what followed.

Send words and metaphors to jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu. See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Creative-Commons image courtesy of pxfuel.

Word of the Week! Malarkey

Snake Oil SalesmanMy 6th-Grade teacher, Miss Gilmore, had a wonderfully deep Southern accent. At times, all too frequently, we said stupid things and instead of getting angry, she’d reply “oh, malarkey!”  She probably would have spelled it “malarky,” Something I also see in print.

That’s how I learned this word, once common and hard to find today. Malarkey, however, has never vanished. It’s humbug. It’s nonsense. It’s misleading. It’s ridiculous. It may not be illegal or dangerous, but it rises to the level of silliness, at least. Earlier I considered mountebanks and their con-games. These fellows are masters of malarkey. I like my image from that post so much that I’m going to use it again.

There is no malarkey involved in the mysterious origin of our word. The author of the OED entry simply does not know. The word did cross the Atlantic to the New World. There’s an Irish surname close to our word, but that origin is probably malarkey.

Is malarkey endangered? Not the thing itself: it’s everywhere. But the word has fallen to 3 of 8 on the OED usage scale, making it one of those words “not commonly found in general text types like novels and newspapers, but at the same they are not overly opaque or obscure.”

Time to bring the word back. We need more words without four letters for the everyday, trivial nonsense we encounter. For instance: “Your call is important to us.”

Malarkey!

Send us words and metaphors to feature here. See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Image of “Professor Thaddeus Schmidlap, resident snake-oil salesman at the Enchanted Springs Ranch and Old West theme park” courtesy of Wikipedia, via the Library of Congress.

Word of the Week! Perfidious

Charlie Brown, Lucy, FootballI’m enjoying my little side-trip into Latinate terms. We’ve recently had invidious and insidious. Why not “perfidious”?  I often think of angry French critics of England’s supposed treachery, in the coinage “perfidious Albion!” spat out in many a tirade from a different, equally difficult time in human history.

Perfidious means breaking confidence or promises. In short, treacherous. The OED gives us a bit of the history, while the Wikipedia page on Perfidious Albion claims even earlier usages, back as far as the 13th Century.

Put in your poster-child for our word at the top of this post. I am sure we can think of several. I’ll be light-hearted. Lucy, from Peanuts, immediately comes to mind. And that football…I’ve used the idea before, in discussing the word casuistry. Poor Charlie; his gullible belief in perfidious Lucy provides a tale for the ages.

This week’s term has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance, with the Brexit vote and outcome across The Atlantic. I won’t point any fingers, as perfidy can be found many places today.

Send us words and metaphors, wondrous, horrid, or banal! E-mail jessid-at-richmond-dot-edu with your nominees. See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Image courtesy of an entire file-folder of Charlie Brown and football images on my hard drive.

Word of the Week! Invidious

invidiousAfter last week’s insidious, I ran across its near homonym. With school beginning and the need to ramp up student vocabularies increasing with the pile of reading on that way, let’s sort these two words out.

Insidious and invidious both have Latin roots and negative connotations, but if the former relates of subterfuge, invidious is more candid: any action or statement likely to spur resentment, offense, or anger.  As with last week’s word, our word this week has barely budged in its meaning since the 17th Century. You’ll find lots of interesting examples in the OED entry. Most commonly today, we talk about an “invidious comparison,” such as this one, from the blog for writers, The Wickeds:

“If you don’t write everyday, you can’t write a book.”

Poppycock. The disempowering message from these morons is, “You can’t write a book.”

That sort of comparison teams up something awful with something desirable. It’s sure to provoke.

I ran across our word in a book that did get written, and written well, The Men Who Lost America, about the British leaders of the Revolutionary War. Here’s the usage by author Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy.

“In the view of one Cabinet insider, the government was in an invidious position and could not afford to risk alienating the brothers by denying their terms.”

Well respected General Howe and his older brother, Admiral Howe, proposed a peace conference to the Americans, something George III vehemently opposed. But the British government decided to both make war and offer an unsatisfactory peace at the same time. The brothers’ initiative failed, miserably.

We know the rest.

As the year begins with uncertainty,  be sure that we’ll press on here. Send us words and metaphors! E-mail jessid-at-richmond-dot-edu with your nominees. See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

quite timely image of “the suicide of an invidious plutocrat” courtesy of Wikepedia

Word of the Week! Mountebank

Snake Oil SalesmanI’ve been enjoying Founding Brothers, by Joseph Ellis. This scholarly work about the generation of founders from 1776 fills in the gaps and errors of Hamilton, which I enjoyed for different reasons. Ellis pulls off a difficult feat: his book manages to draw on primary sources and cover events without being at all stuffy.

He also provides some great words in use by that generation. We rarely hear the word mountebank today, though we often–all too often–encounter them. We would be more likely to call one a “fake” or a “charlatan” today. As with Strombolian from a few weeks back, I’d like to see our word this week return to regular usage. In the days of Burr and Hamilton, both given this slur, the word might lead to a duel. Today, it would simply elevate political discourse from the sewers.

Originally, as the OED notes, the word meant what we’d call a “snake-oil salesman,” a specific type of charlatan. They stood on soap-boxes or benches, hence the Italian monta in banco that proved the genesis of our English word.

Montebanks still exist today, too, even if they rarely stand atop boxes. They are instead often in the box in front of you: look at the advertisements for those “try this one simple trick” that shamelessly appear on many Web pages.

More broadly, and much more sadly, anyone claiming knowledge without having it, and using that for fame or personal fortune is a mountebank. We have many in the public eye right now, some more brazen than others.  Perhaps we need a renaissance of the old metaphor of “being ridden out of town on a rail”?

Send us words and metaphors to feature here. See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Image of “Professor Thaddeus Schmidlap, resident snake-oil salesman at the Enchanted Springs Ranch and Old West theme park” courtesy of Wikipedia, via the Library of Congress.