Uncategorized, writing technique

Mary Anne Evans

The love of my life, M, is reading George Eliot. She enjoys Eliot’s incredible vocabulary. On Kindle, M just taps a word to see its meaning and then sometimes throws the word at me. I didn’t know “casuist” is a word for one given to casuistry, or, excessively subtle reasoning intended to mislead. The casuists I know are all newsreaders but I didn’t know there was a polite term for describing them.

It made me wonder. In a world where news is spun and we tend to believe what we want to hear, I wonder if the words we no longer use don’t tell us as much about ourselves as do the words we use. My favorite example is the shifted meaning of the word, “alienation.” I once looked that up in a dictionary printed in the 1800s just to see if it was in there. It was but it was described as a form of insanity. Not now.

There must be a word for things we don’t want to see but who remembers that?

Hopefully, the more erudite among you can help me out here.
What words are no longer in use even though what they stand for still exists?


19 thoughts on “Mary Anne Evans

  1. “There must be a word for things we don’t want to see . . .”

    There is. There are. Both individual words and pertinent phrases.

    In no particular order, I offer up a good half-dozen in answer to your question:

    1.) denial
    2.) willful ignorance
    3.) averting one’s gaze
    4.) whistling past the graveyard
    5.) anosognosia
    6.) feigning stupidity / playing dumb

    The poster child who best exemplifies this kind of thinking/behavior to this former marine is Barbara Bush: “Why should we hear about body bags and deaths? It’s not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?” Ah, the privilege and entitlement of dismissive oligarchic blinders . . .

    As to “What words [or phrases?—Carl] are no longer in use even though what they stand for still exists” . . .

    1.) shell shock / combat fatigue (became PTSD, as George Carlin has noted)

    2.) slave rebellions (work place shootings, suicides, domestic violence, road rage)

    3.) Manifest Destiny (now best referenced by a repetitive, idiotic, acronymic chant: “USA! USA! USA!”)

    4.) indentured servitude (near 50% of the electorate now live at or below the poverty level; we call that “adjusting one’s expectations downward” or “neo-liberalism” or “Mcjob” or “breeding ground for socialism” or “Feel the Bern!”)

    5.) cockalorum (a little man with a high opinion of himself)

    6.) brabble (arguing loudly about inconsequential matters)

    Liked by 3 people

  2. mimispeike says:

    I love to find odd words and use them myself. But even more fun is to use a modern term, wonder if it’s at all workable for the sixteenth century, look up derivation, and find it in one form or another in Middle English, Dutch, French, I’m not fussy. Not long ago I had Sly use junk in a slang-y sense, as we might use it today. Junke in Middle English meant roughly what it does today, trash, and I figured Sly might easily stretch it to refer to certain body parts.

    I find very often that terms I think impossible in a sixteenth century context are completely acceptable, of suitable lineage, and of a playful turn in sync with the playful personality of my story.

    When all else fails, I make up words. Wordplay is the grandest game I know of.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. GD Deckard says:

    Anosognosia: Clearly my favorite new word so far. (Thanks, Carl.) According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, it means brain damage prevents someone from updating their self-awareness about their acute mental illness. (From the Greek meaning “to not know a disease.”
    If y’like satire, this word is a lexicon must! Imagine a character named Anosognia -o, wait, Voltaire already did that bit with Candide.

    Mimi’s right, in my mind – making up words is the grandest game. I occasionally Google “Glabelhammies” for the pleasure of seeing my new word pop up on the Internet. Even if I am a piker compared to Mimi or Lewis Carroll.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I worked a made-up word of my own into The Strange & Curious Tale of Prof. Robert Howard Wilson way back when. I kept waiting for someone to call me on it; no one ever did. After the build-up I gave this thing (see the short passage from my tale excerpted below) I figured I’d better give it an impressive, somehow ancient- and eldritch-sounding name.

      “Relief, Mrs. Michaelson.” The professor held the intricately-worked case out before him, chest level, open-palmed. The lid, beautifully circumscribed with a design of dueling dragons, snapped upright with a sharp, percussive pop! Foam-green smoke poured from the gleaming object. Describing a series of sharply perpendicular hand motions, not unlike a Catholic making the Sign of the Cross, the professor slashed the air before him.

      Vicki managed one startled yet fascinated, “Hey . . .” before the sinuous vapors froze her as immobile as the granite statue of Enkidu in the professor’s subterranean invocation chamber.

      Per tenebros et potestates Yug-Siturath et Yog-Sapha, per tibia insani Azathoth et latrator et Nyarlathotep, ego præcipio mundi: Tene! Ego Ambuletis inter evacuat.”

      The professor set the balgronohmin, pouring smoke, atop the television. The picture tube promptly imploded.

      PS. I hear the word (in me weird lil’ head) as pronounced BAAL-gra-KNOW-min.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. GD Deckard says:

    Speaking of word play, Walt Kelly once skewered a militia extremists group calling themselves the Minutemen simply by hyphenating their name. He did comic strips about the Mi-nute men.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. atthysgage says:

    This all makes me think of a couple of words that have gone through some changes over the years: pity and condescend.

    Nowadays, when someone condescends, we take it as an insult. They think they’re better or smarter than we are. The word literally means to come down to a lower level, and in olden days, this wasn’t necessarily regarded as a bad thing. It often meant to act graciously to others even if they were of a lower class or status. The meaning is similar to patronize, which can mean to do business with or to sponsor, but that same difference in rank is part of the equation.

    And that’s the problem for us modern folk, particularly Americans I think, who, despite suffering under numerous forms of blatant inequality, will bristle at the implication that someone is “better” than they are. Back when class distinctions were taken as given, condescending could be as simple as common courtesy and compassion.

    Pity, of course, is another fighting word in modern English. “I pity you,” is the ultimate insult in some situations. Originally, the sense was one of tender compassion, of sympathy. Pity was a kindly feeling (the word itself relates to piety). It’s only our modern sensibiltiy that views pity as insulting, as someone looking down on us and finding us pathetic.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Interesting contribution to the discussion, Atthys. I’ve oftentimes been struck by the difference between pity and empathy. Pity is always a bit of a power trip, innit? “There but for the grace of god go I . . .” Whereas empathizing with someone is to feel what they feel; to experience the world through their eyes. Pity seems passive: “You poor, poor, pitiable wretch. Moving on now; you’ve spoilt dinner.” Whereas empathy strikes me as a somehow more active, muscular word: “I empathize with the plight of ______, so by god I’m going to do something about it.”

      Liked by 2 people

      • atthysgage says:

        Absoloutely. The primary difference, I think, is that we feel empathy or sympathy for others who are like us, but pity for those who are somehow beneath us. In a rigid class system, pity encourages kindness and even compassion (though for some, it was probably more a matter of nobless oblige).

        I had a slightly different take on it, particuarly regarding the “there but for the grace of god go I” feeling. If I am totally honest with myself, when I see a homeless person, especially someone who is living in truly deplorable conditions, what I feel is pity. I can’t (knock wood) imagine myself in that situation, so the “there but for the grace of god go I” feeling isn’t in play. But pity and empathy probably aren’t mutually exclusive. Our emotions are too volatile and complex for such strict delinations. Certainly, pity for a stranger can become empathy for an aquaintance, even a very slight one.

        Liked by 3 people

    • GD Deckard says:

      Thanks, Atthys. We do forget that word meanings change over time. Pity and condescend are great examples & ones I didn’t know about. They perfectly illustrate that the context of word usage tailors the word’s meaning.

      This context of word meaning might be important to writing stories. To present the pious meaning of “pity” before it is used in dialogue could add tender realism to a compassionate scene.
      Hmm…. This opens a whole new dimension of word play! Thanks again.

      Liked by 3 people

  6. I’m afraid my contribution is less serious than Atthys’s, but one word I love is anatidaephobia – the fear that one is being watched by a duck. Suspecting I might suffer from it, I went to see a doctor but he turned out to be a quack.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. GD Deckard says:

    The original pronunciation of Protestant as in the Protestant Church was “pro-tes-tant” as in one who protests.
    I heard this on a British movie & Googled it. Martin Luther’s pro-tes-tants protested the Catholic Church.

    That opens up -well, to me anyway- a new understanding of changes in word meanings. In this case, it’s a detail of how a word’s meaning went from rabble rousers to respectable congregation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kinda like how “Yankee Doodle Dandy” went from being . . . but let WIKI tell it:
      The origin of the word Yankee. There are several theories as to the origin of the word, but the prevailing theory is that it was a dismissive reference by the British towards American colonists and the Dutch origins of many northeast settlers. It is believed to be a corruption of Janke, or little Jan, a common Dutch name.

      The song “Yankee Doodle Dandy” became popular among the British as well as the rebels. A doodle was a simpleton and the phrase “stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni” implied that backwoods bumpkins could jam a feather into their coonskin hats and fancy themselves as elegant as Europeans sporting the latest in refined Italian styles: the “macaroni.”

      The American army embraced the derisive song. When Gen. Cornwallis’ troops surrendered at Yorktown to end the war, they marched out of the fort playing “The World Turned Upside Down.” They were met by an American band triumphantly playing “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

      Liked by 2 people

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