Words of the Week! de facto & de jure

Island of CyprusRecently, I ran across this usage from a 2018 article in The Atlantic:

And like de jure segregation—when the government legally engineered ghettos into existence—de facto segregation continues to exacerbate wealth and racial inequality today.

I often use de facto, luckily in its correct sense as stated in the OED, “in fact, in reality, in actual existence, force, or possession, as a matter of fact.”

There’s a clear distinction in all of the terms referenced by the OED using the Latin preposition de. 

For de jure, it is a case of something being “according to law.” My example will get this post banned in China, but the Chinese occupation of Tibet constitutes a de facto, but not a de jure, annexation of another nation.  The same applies in Cyprus, where in 2005 I crossed a de facto border between north and south, seeing the UN blue helmets try to maintain a ceasefire between the Turkish and Greek populations. Closer to home, many executive orders by our Presidents constitute similar de facto, but not de jure, changes to how our government functions.

Look at the news: which recent events and social changes are likely to become de facto, but not de jure, parts of our daily lives in the near future?

Maybe you have some words or metaphors that puzzle you? 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 Wikipedia Commons en Español. Hay que practicarlo.

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! Insidious

COVID Cartoon VirusIs this an apt word for these times?  This darned virus is so…insidious. It’s a fine, formal word for something the creeps up and does terrible things.  While the OED claims that it means “full of wiles or plots” the dictionary quotes a 1900 usage for an “insidious disease.”

How can something lacking human agency (or even the stealth of an animal predator) be insidious? “Operating secretly” from the OED definition provides the key. Our current virus fits the term, because its effects vary, its symptoms may not appear at all, and its latency seems just long enough to let it spread. Moreover, COVID-19 has social beings so clearly in its sights: I’m being cynical, but our modern economy at times seems based upon restaurants, bars, beaches, and fitness centers, all great ways for the virus to spread.

Just as last week’s “peroration” gave us our modern “oration,” “insidious” breeds other terms, such as Darth Sidious from the tragically awful Star Wars prequels. I don’t recall much about the character in those poorly written films, save that he became the Emperor later. He was certainly a creeping, slowly growing menace. Thus he was clearly “insidious.” I suppose “Darth Insidious” would be too obvious, even in a rotten movie? Or redundant (here comes another pop-cult reference) such as The Evil League of Evil from the brilliant Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog? 

Time to see that one again.

While you are laying your insidious plans for Fall, 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.

Insidious COVID image courtesy of Pixabay.

Word of the Week! Peroration

AgoraGeorge Souleret, whom I met during his time with University Facilities as an HVAC Engineer, nominated this week’s word. I saw it first as “perforation,” and wondered to what new uses that old term had been put.

Blame bifocals or autocorrect, but I need to thank George for teaching an old faculty member a new word that he most certainly should know. According to the OED, our word is a speech (sometimes just the end of one) or discourse in general.  I often tell students that academic discourse as we know it, as well as reasoned debate in the Western tradition, began in the era of Socrates. I visited the site of the Athenian Agora in 2007, and to me it was as sacred an experience as I’ll ever have in this life.

We have some excellent perorations, such as Pericles’ famous funeral oration, given before the great plague of Athens, a story that we may wish to revisit today. That epidemic swept away Pericles and two of his sons.

On a lighter note, I love one current usage given: “A perfectly dreadful hour-long peroration by an American scholar.”

Thus I’ll spare you a dreadful peroration on peroration. In an election year, I expect we’ll have our share of perorations, some dreadful, a few delightful.

But the term does provide a formal and Latinate synonym that, in the right place, provides an option to “speech,” “presentation,” and other similar terms.

image of the Stoa of Attalos, housing the Athenian Agora Museum by me, 2007.

Word of the Week! Conurbation

East Coast US at night, from spaceReader Joyce Garner nominated this term she’d found in The Atlantic, one of my favorite periodicals. While I could not find the reference, the term itself is as simple to use as it is recent.

The OED lists first recorded usage in 1915. London is certainly a conurbation, or aggregation of urban areas. Ditto greater New York. So is Madrid, where I lived in Tetuan, a small town swallowed whole by the metropolis. Closer to home, one thinks about parts of Tidewater, where Chesapeake runs into Norfolk, or how Richmond and the old city of Manchester south of the James merged to become the conurbation we call metropolitan Richmond.

“Sprawl” does not have the same sense; suburban areas are not the same as urban ones, save in New-Urbanist dense development. Nor would the sprawl of one city quite capture that idea of conurbation.

I used to fret that the planet would be covered by conurbation, back in the 80s when SF writer William Gibson invented “the BAMA Sprawl,” or Baltimore-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis, for Neuromancer and the books that followed.

While sprawl continues today, longer-term population trends are downward, globally, and they were before COVID-19. In 100 years, whatever evil climate change brings to our coasts and daily lives, we may be coping with a new issue: lots of vacant areas in our conurbations.

Perhaps they’ll become parks or gardens,  as the global populace shrinks to a size less harmful to our ecosystem.

Come what may, 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 East Coast conurbations at night, as seen from the International Space Station, courtesy of NASA.

 

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.

Word of the Week! Strombolian

StromboliAs a child, I loved several things in the way only an OCD person can: volcanoes and maps were two of them. When these obsessions coincided, as they did on the paper place-mats of many 1960s pizza parlors?

Paradise. Studying the lumps and bumps, some smoking dramatically, on the simplified map of Italy I’d move past Etna and Vesuvius to fixate on one spot: The Island of Stromboli.

The word rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? It is a word hard to say without grinning, too. Likewise our adjectival form, one I encountered when reading about volcanoes recently. As this site notes, Strombolian eruptions are “short-lived, explosive outbursts,” that remind me of how a few public figures misbehave in person and online, when they don’t get their ways.  In the world of indifferent rock and sky that will outlast all our vanities, Strombolian eruptions toss bombs into the air “that travel in parabolic ballistic paths” before building up a cinder cone. To a volcano-obsessed child, thinking about this was the next best thing to eating a pizza.

My own dad was rather Strombolian (7/14/20 update: This Bastille Day would mark his 100th birthday). I think this aspect of his temper kept him from major, stratosphere-scraping, climate-altering blasts. It was he, in fact, who got me fascinated with all things Stromboli. A clever and imaginative man despite his lack of formal education, he invented a myth about a pot-bellied giant named Stromboli, who lived on that little speck I would so faithfully study on the place-mat. I imagined Stromboli wearing an animal skin and sporting a huge, waxed handlebar mustache, right out of pizza-parlor iconography. There was no Wikipedia or Internet then, and the “S” volume of our World Book Encyclopedia was missing in action. So Stromboli grew in my mind like, well, a swelling volcano.

This was long before a sandwich called The Stromboli could be ordered in my part of Virginia. The rolled-up delight apparently began in the 50s, at an Essington, PA restaurant, and the sandwich has a fascinating back story: it’s named for a film, not a volcano. I got a real kick out seeing Strombolis erupt onto Richmond menus in the 1990s, and I told my father. He loved the idea and once again said, his voice booming, “I AM STROMBOLI!”

We should use the adjective Strombolian, among others, as much as we can. It is certainly better than the mindless “super” I hear constantly. But I’ll avoid yet another short-lived outburst on that subject. I’ll  soothe my temper by looking at my bookshelf, where I’ve not only Simon Winchester’s book Krakatoa but also some fragments of Mount Saint Helens and a small lava bomb ejected during a Strombolian event in Iceland. That one I picked up in person, off a glacier littered with lava bombs.Italian placematNow I am rather hungry for a take-out Stromboli.

Image of Stromboli courtesy of Wikipedia. Placemat image blatantly stolen.

Word of the Week! Abjure

The OathbreakersLinda Hobgood, Director of UR’s Speech Center, ran across this term recently and nominated it. And why am I using a scene from Peter Jackson’s film? Wait for it.

It has a legal sound, to my untrained ear. But that is merely one definition given by the OED. In fact, the term generally means to renounce. In the obsolete legal sense, it meant to leave a place, rather akin to renouncing one’s citizenship in the era before passports. Most all senses of the word are historical or obsolete, yet the word has a formal sensibility that merits its continuance.

One usage does remain current, for breaking an oath. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s history of Middle Earth, I first learned the term “oathbreaker,” back when I was a teen. These poor fellows vowed to defend a kingdom against evil, and yet abjured their vows. They were cursed to become the living dead, until another king would call upon them to fulfill their oaths.

That’s rough justice. As for our word?

Let’s abjure abjuring abjure, and bring it back into our formal use.

Image of Aragorn calling upon the Oathbreakers of Middle Earth, courtesy of The Lord of the Ring Wiki.

Word of the Week! Loquacious

Blah Blah BlahSome time back, I considered the history of the term laconic. Today we meet its antithesis. It’s the stuff of Twitter: running one’s mouth constantly.

I hate Twitter, incidentally. I hated it long before it became a cesspool for the worst possible ideas imaginable. But I’m loquacious in a different way: I don’t mind running on at the mouth a bit, when needed about a complex topic. Twitter, like social media generally, encourage shallow and small bits of discourse, ones disconnected from deeper meaning, often about vital and thorny subjects.

I know educators use Twitter well, but to me, there’s already a lot of talk, and not enough listening, even in our circles.

“Loquacious” has not changed its meaning much over the years. John Milton used our Latinate term just as we do today, for too much talking.

Shall I be brief about a windy subject?

One old usage, sadly labeled “poetic” and with a last recorded instance of 1888, relates to the chattering of birds.

You know, twittering birds. Tweet tweet tweet.