Word of the Week! Recalcitrant

Stubborn man in suit, arms crossed

Hat tip to Robyn Bradshaw for nominating this fancy way of saying “obstinately disobedient; uncooperative, refractory; objecting to constraint or restriction.” That’s the OED’s first definition for a word that comes to us from smack-dab in the Age of Reason, with a first recorded use of 1797.

In terms of our current campus debate, a refusal to listen to petitions, votes, and common 21st Century sense marks that recalcitrance of one side or both, depending upon your perspective.

I side with our Black students, so my bias should be clear as to who is not listening to reason. Yet the word proves a useful alternative to ones such as “stubborn,” “close-minded,” “pompous,” “megalomaniacal,” “arrogant,” “disdainful,” “disrespectful,” even “self-righteous.”

There are other rude synonyms I will skip, as I’m fond of the Age of Reason and fonder still of being politic about these matters. What I say aloud and in private are of little concern here.

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.

Recalcitrant dude in suit courtesy of Pixabay.

Word of the Week! Disaffiliation

leavingIn the prior post I discussed a word for crossings: ford. Today’s word is longer, and currently, more poignant in describing a transition. We are using it on our campus to discuss the decision by some students and faculty not to participate in uncompensated activities that promote our university.

For a time I considered ending this blog until student voices were heard about several demands, including the removal of buildings named for a slave-holder and a supporter of eugenics.

Instead, I’m going to take a different tack. As events play out on campus, I plan to affiliate this blog with words related to the long struggle for equality by marginalized people. This will keep me busy even as I work on more tangible projects to help

Disaffiliate is not a pretty word, and it rings as hollow as lots of 20th Century terms with their origins in bureaucracy. The noun form indeed comes from that era of “gray flannel suits” but the verb is far older, with the OED giving us a first recorded use of 1863. The example proves as colorful as anything else in the satirical magazine, Punch:

The wretched Lodge of Foresters who ‘continued their festivities’ after the murder, will of course be dis-affiliated by the rest of the body.

The definition of our word has not changed for more than a century and a half, to “end or remove the official connection of  to an organization.” In that regard, this post can simply end here. What, however, does the verb mean in the context of a particular institution or culture?

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 lanchongzi at Flickr

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! Idiolect

Whisper

Several of my old college friends use phrases that appear ridiculous to outsiders. We call each other “dummy” or greet each other with the exclamation “Dit!” In reference to Beatnik culture, we say “that’s beat” for run-down or beaten up, or “peeled” if someone or something is really “beat.”  We’ve been known to call each other “peely-poo” when life gets rough.

We are using an idiolect, and I’m certain many of your families and friends employ one. The OED defines it, a fairly recent word, as the “linguistic system of one person, differing in some details from that of all other speakers of the same dialect or language.”

That original definition does not fit the dialect or private language of a very small group of speakers, though the OED does include Ebonics as an example of “the various idioms, patois, argots, ideolects, and social dialects of black people,” making our word something used by a particular community. Note the spelling difference in the example, one the OED calls a 20th-Century convention. We are well into the next century, so heed that change.

I’m guessing that the trade pidgin of the Solomons Islands would quality as an idiolect, as would the slang of many subcultures, as well as cryptolects such as thieves’ cant that thrived in England until rather recently.

Some of these words escape into wider use, as with “rube” for an easily fooled person and a “mark” as someone to be targeted for a crime.

I hope this post helps you to consider the private or hidden language around you, words that you might otherwise take for granted.

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.

Creative-Commons Image “Whisper” by Jamine Gray at Flickr.

Word of the Week! Perseverance

Mars landingThe day this post runs, NASA will have tried something novel for the human race: landing a vehicle on Mars specifically in a site that once held liquid water. The landing technique itself fascinates me: a hovering lander that will use a “skycrane” lowering rover to sample the soils of that ancient lake bed on The Red Planet.

The Rover? As with NASA’s earlier rovers, it has a poetic name: Soujourner, Curiosity, Opportunity.

This one? Perseverance. It takes that quality to send a machine that far on such a hazardous journey. And the word itself?

We have a French loan word, and since that time, the word has remained popular.

The OED’s first definition reveals a meaning that itself has persevered, a “constant persistence in a course of action or purpose; steadfast pursuit of an aim.” I enjoy finding words like this that do not vary over the centuries. Time erases so many things, but some persist.

Student writers might use “persist” as a synonym, yet that word to me, like “endure,” lacks the active nature of “persevering.” A robot like our Mars rover can be active; the evidence of hypothetical Martian life would merely persist.

So consider how, faced with challenges, “carry on” might work for a person or a machine, though it sounds less formal. Perhaps readers can offer other synonyms.

In any case, here’s to NASA’s bold mission, one we’ve discussed in my first-year seminar, The Space Race. Happy landings and good luck hunting ancient microbes. If Mars once harbored life, even microscopic life, Humanity’s understanding of its place in the cosmos would change forever.

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.

Image courtesy of NASA.

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! Vexillology

Collage of the flags of countries / regions participating in CEE Spring 2017Dan Strohl, my editor at Hemmings Daily, used the word “vexillological” in a sentence about two cars, one a Jaguar E-Type painted in the Union Jack and a first-generation Mustang in Old Glory. As painted, either vehicle proves too flashy for my tastes, but the word?

I’ve never heard of it. In fact, I don’t need The OED this week. The meaning? The study of flags.

As with similar words, it combines the common Greek suffix –logy with a Latin prefix from the word vexillum, a type of flag used by Roman military units. Look around to find dozens, if not hundreds, of -logies. Just over a year ago, I discussed a word for loving words, philology. Many of these terms describe long-standing academic fields. They nod to perhaps what was a more clubbish, even precious time in Academia.

I’ve not met an historian who studies flags, though I’m certain they exist and their work has been well received. I have met flag collectors and hobbyists, just as I’m met philatelists (stamp collectors), and that’s a word I cannot say without chuckling. I imagine both passing gas and a crime that brings 10-20 in The Big House. On the other hand, I can get through a sentence about numismatists (coin collectors) with a straight face, though often with a tangled tongue. I don’t pursue either hobby, though a Byzantine coin in my desk reminds me of how quickly time passes. It’s the oldest thing in our house, worth only about $20 on the market, in case the reader is contemplating burglary. Thus too, the transient value of old things except, perhaps, to busy our minds in useful ways.

On this snowy day I’ll return to one of my hobbies, modeling. No, not posing for photos: building scale models. We need a Greco-Latinate term! “Builder” sounds like an English contractor, “Maker” too coy and hipsterific. One thing of note: model-building may be good for the brain, much like the study of words.

I’d contend that any hobby requiring careful research and some movement or dexterity might do the same. Going out to see rare flags and properly storing a collection mean using parts of our minds and bodies in active ways. Get busy, those of you in your 50s and 60s: join the ranks of vexillologists, numismatists, even those philatelists.

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.

Image source: Collage of the flags of countries/regions participating in CEE Spring 2017, from Wikipedia

Word of the Week! Sedition

Jefferson Davis at Fort MonroeOkay now, this post my have something to do with politics, but I’m not about to accuse anyone of sedition or try to wrangle a working legal definition. I will report what The OED and US law say. You then can peruse and decide.

We are going to hear “sedition” a great deal in coming months, also “seditionist,” a word last employed regularly in the late 1860s. “Treason” may also crop up.

As always, the OED provides a first stop. The second definition there, listed as “now rare” may well give us pause, as it will likely be employed in investigating and prosecuting those involved in or encouraging the recent riot at the US Capitol: “A concerted movement to overthrow an established government; a revolt, rebellion, mutiny.” Add to that the second definition, “Conduct or language inciting to rebellion against the constituted authority in a state” and I think we are nearly done with what the term means.

As to its origin, look back to French, other Romance languages, and Latin. The word has a long-term life and, sadly, history of examples for good and ill (against tyrannies and governments we might admire).

Soon in popular discussion the word “treason” will also be bandied about.  I had assumed that it differed from sedition in that it involved supporing a foreign enemy.

What’s the difference, in terms of definition? the sense from this official document in the House archives is that treason applies to someone who “owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

“Seditious conspiracy” has a different explanation and set of penalties for two or more people who “conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.”

There we have it. A great deal of legal action is soon to hinge upon these definitions, as well as which words and actions encouraged violent action or knowingly delayed the “execution of law” in Washington and elsewhere. Learn more about a recent (and half-forgotten) sedition trial of white supremacists here.

These are indeed momentous times, and if you have words or metaphors worth exploring, send them to jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu.See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Alfred R. Wauld’s sketch of Confederate President Jefferson Davis imprisoned at Fort Monroe. Davis was charged with treason, not seditious conspriacy. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Words of the Week! Three Two-Letter Words

on in atAt the start of a troubled year and the return to classes, I decided to play it safe with the linguistic equivalent of “comfort food.” We could use a bit, true?

I will soon feature a lineup of timely words, including “sedition,” “impeach,” and “riot,” whose origins and uses may be of interest to both native speakers and English-language learners. Somehow writing about such things as words makes their awful reality more tolerable.

As political events of great import unfold around us, let’s turn for a moment to aiding newcomers to the English language. Consider this: why do we say “he lives in Virginia” or “she lives in Fairfax County” but “I grew up on Parkwood Avenue?”

And we wonder why prepositions are so hard to master. As I discovered while learning Spanish, the best method may be to memorize idiomatic usages and repeat them, frequently, with gentle corrections coming from those who grew up speaking English. Most of these speakers can often tell a learner what “sounds right,” even if we don’t know the rules.

As for rules: the Voice of America’s page about in/on/at shows us that, for position, “in” points to the most general location. Thus, “I lived for a year in Madrid,” while “on” gets more specific, as in “My apartment was on Calle Huesca,” yet “at” gets more specific still, as in “at numero 27 Calle Huesca” or “at the corner of Calle Huesca and Infanta Mercedes.”

Speaking of Mercedes, there’s the exception, where “in” gets quite specific: you can be “in” a car, but you are “on” a larger vehicle or vessel unless you mean you are literally inside a ship, airliner, or the carriage of a train. Then you are indeed “in” the ship, plane, or train.

Wing walkerThe pilot is in the biplane, while the wing-walker is on it. Here’s an extended example:

We rode in our car to the airport, left it at the extended parking lot, departed on a plane, where I managed to leave my reading glasses in the airliner! We flew to Miami and got on a cruise ship, where we had a cabin on the starboard side at the stern of the ship. We stayed in our room the first two days, as we were too seasick to be on deck.  We were very happy to be on dry land again, when the ship was in Jamaica. We docked at Ocho Rios but stayed at a small hotel on the north side of the island.

These little words are harder than they seem!

Then we have figurative uses of these prepositions. Back to my childhood, for a moment. While I did have a mean-tempered neighbor who told me to “go play in traffic!” I can assure readers that I did not actually grow up in the street or on it, in a literal sense.

The shades of meaning here are key for one (and not the only) distinction between “in” and “on.” If you are “in the street” you could be hit by a car. If you are “on the street” the meaning becomes figurative, for walking about in an urban area, unless you happen to fall down. Then you could both be “lying on the street and in the street.” We also refer to the homeless as being “on the streets” at times. Protestors and rioters (here come those future posts) are said to be “in the streets.”

As for time? Another set of distinctions appear for these words when we move to chronology. Again, the VOA page helps a great deal. Consider this example:

At 3:00 am on July 7th in 2020 we saw the peak of the meteor shower.

We’d usually skip the “in” here, inserting a comma for the preposition, but I added “in” to demonstrate the shades of specificity that distinguish our three words.  They help to master idiomatic phrases such as “at the stroke of midnight,” “at noon,” “in the afternoon,” “on the day of reckoning,” and so on.

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.

Title image courtesy of me and Photoshop; Creative-Commons licensed wing-walker image from Wikipedia.