Verbs are incalculably useful to you. Every sentence you think, say, read, or write contains an implied or expressed verb, for it is the verb that carries the action, the movement, the force of your ideas.
The richer and more extensive your vocabulary of verbs, the more accurately and expressively you can communicate your understanding of actions, reactions, attitudes, and emotions.
SESSION 1 – VERBS TO GET YOU OFF THE GROUND
Playing it down
Jim has won the school tennis tournament. But Sally says that if Jack hadn’t been sidelined with a broken ankle, he would have won; Jim isn’t really the best.
What is Sally doing?
She is disparaging Jim’s achievement.
Playing it safe
Plans are published for a by-pass round your town. Business people are appalled, because they say it will ruin their trade. Old people and parents of young children are pleased, because the roads will be safer for them. What does your MP say? He says the by-pass is good in some ways, bad in others.
For it or against it?
Your MP is equivocating.
Enjoying the little things
Have you ever seen a play or film that was so charming that you felt sheer delight as you watched? Or perhaps you have had a portion of lemon meringue pie that was the last word in gustatory enjoyment?
How do such things affect you?
They titillate you.
You know how teenagers of an earlier generation idolized the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart?
And of course you know how certain people fall all over visiting celebrities – they show them ingratiating attention and flatter them fulsomely.
They adulate such celebrities.
Accentuating the negative
The big match is next week, and the team must train hard. The manager tells the players: ‘No alcohol, no chocolate, no binges.’
What, in one word, is the manager doing?
He is proscribing harmful items in their diet.
Accentuating the affirmative
You are warm, enthusiastic, outgoing, easy to please; you are quick to show appreciation, yet accept the human weaknesses of others.
You are a fascinating talker, an even better listener.
Need you have any fears about making friends? Obviously not.
Your characteristics obviate such fears.
Playing it wrong
What about neurotic people who unconsciously wish to fail? In business interviews they say exactly the wrong words, they do exactly the wrong things, they seem intent (as, unconsciously, they actually are) on ensuring failure, though consciously they are doing their best to succeed.
What effect does such a neurotic tendency have?
It militates against success.
Playing it dirty
‘Steve? He’s a closet alcoholic. Emma? She’s sleeping around – and her stupid husband doesn’t suspect a thing. Bill? He’s embezzling from his own company. Paul? He’s a child molester.’
What is this character doing?
He’s maligning everyone.
Giving the benefit of any doubt
Do you think it’s all right to cheat on yoru income tax? At least just a little? Doesn’t everybody do it?
How do you feel about marital infidelity? Are you inclined to overlook the occasional ‘bit on the side’?
If your answers are in the affirmative, how are you reacting to such legal or ethical transgressions?
You condone them
Unwittingly you have done something that has aroused anger in yoru best friend, and he makes it obvious that he feels bitter. His friendship is valuable toyou and you wish to restore yourself in his good graces. What do you do?
You try to placate him.
Can you match the words in the first column with those in the second?
disparage = play down
equivocate = purposely talk in such a way as to be vague and misleading
titillate = tickle; stimulate pleasurably
adulate = flatter lavishly
proscribe = prohibit
obviate = make unnecessary
militate = work against
malign = slander
condone = forgive
placate = change hostility to friendliness
Do you understand the words?
Do you normally disparage something you admire? No
Do you equivocate if you think it unwise to take a definite stand? Yes
Do pleasant things titillate you? Yes
Do emotionally mature people need constant adulation? No
Is sugar proscribed for most diabetics? Yes
Does a substantial fortune obviate financial fears? Yes
Does a worker’s inefficiency often militate against his keeping his job? Yes
Do people enjoy being maligned? No
Do we generally condone the faults of those we love? Yes
Can you sometimes placate a person by apologizing? Yes
SESSION 2 – SOME WORDS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS
If you play golf, you know that each course or hole has a certain par, the number of strokes allowed according to the results achieved by expert players. Your own accomplishment on the course will be at par, above par, or below par.
Par is from a Latin word meaning equal. You may try, when you play golf, to equal the expert score; and some days you may, or may not, feel equal to your usual self.
So when you disparage, you lower someone’s par, or feeling of equality (dis– may be a negative prefix). The noun is disparagement, the adjective disparaging, as in ‘Why do you always make disparaging remarks about me?’
Parity as a noun means equality; disparity means a lack of equality, or a difference. The adjective disparate indicates essential or complete difference in inequality, as in ‘Our philosophies are so disparate that we can never come to any agreement on action.’
The word compare and all its forms (comparable, comparative, etc.) derive from par, equal. Two things are compared when they have certain equal or similar qualities (con-, com-, together, with).
Pair and peer are also from par. Things (shoes, socks, gloves, etc.) in pairs are equal; your peers are those equal to you, as in age, rank, or ability.
How to say yes and no
Equivocate is built on another Latin word meaning equal – aequus (the spelling in English is always equ-) – plus vox, vocis, voice.
When you equivocate, you seem to be saying both yes and no with equal voice. An equivocal answer is deliberately vague and susceptible or contradictory interpretations, quite the opposite of an unequivocal response, which says Yes! or No! Politicians are masters of equivocation – on most vital issues they sit on the fence.
Statements of various kinds
Do not confuse equivocal with ambiguous. An equivocal statement is purposely (and with malice aforethought) couched in language that will be deceptive; an ambiguous statement can have two possible interpretations, either deliberately or accidentally, but without malicious intent.
Ambi is a root meaning both; anything ambiguous may have both one meaning and another meaning. If you say ‘That sentence is the height of ambiguity’, you mean that you find it vague because it may mean two different things. Ambiguity is pronounced am’-bi-GYŌŌ-i-ti.
Another type of statement or word contains the possibility of two interpretations – one of them suggestive or sexy. Such a statement or word is a double entendre. This is from the French and translates literally as double meaning. Give the word as close a French pronunciation as you can – DŌŌB’-lahn-TAHN’-drǝ.
Can you match the words?
parity = equality
disparity = inequality
disparagement = belittlement
peer = one’s equal
equivocation = act of being deliberately vague or indirectly deceptive
ambiguity = quality of being open to misinterpretation
double entendre = statement or word with two meanings, one of them risqué
unequivocal = definitely positive or negative
par = equal
disparate = completely different
Do you understand the words?
Is there a disparity in age between a grandfather and his granddaughter? Yes
Is an equivocal statement clear and direct? No
Is an unequivocal answer vague and misleading? No
Are politicians often masters of equivocation? Yes
Are ambiguous sentences somewhat confusing? Yes
Are people with disparate perceptions of life likely to experience reality in the same way? No
Is a disparaging look one of admiration? No
When people equivocate, are they evading the issue? Yes
Is the deliberate use of double entendres likely to shock puritanical people? Yes
Are supervisors and their subordinates peers? No
SESSION 3 – HORSES FOR COURSES
More on equality
The root aequus, spelled equ– in English words, is a building block of:
equity – justice, fairness; i.e., equal treatment. Stocks in the financial markets are equities, and the value of your home over and above the amount of the mortgage you owe is your equity in it. The adjective is equitable.
inequity – injustice, unfairness (equity plus the negative prefix in-). Adjective: inequitable.
iniquity – the change of a single letter (e to i) extends the meaning of a word far beyond its derivation. Injustice and unfairness are sinful and wicked, so an iniquity is a sin or vice, and iniquity is wickedness, sinfulness. Adjective: iniquitous.
equinox – ‘equal night’, a combination of aequus and nox, noctis, night. The equinox, when day and night are of equal length, occurs twice a year, on 21 March and 21 September. The adjective is equinoctial. Nocturnal, derived from nox, noctis, describes people animals, or plants that are active or flourish at night rather than during daylight hours. A nocturne is a musical composition of dreamy character (i.e., night music), or a painting of a night scene.
equanimity – etymologically aequus plus animus, mind, hence ‘equal mind’. You will be admired if you can maintain your equanimity when everyone around you is getting excited or upset.
equability – a close synonym of equanimity. A person of equable temperament is characteristically calm, serene, unflappable, even-tempered.
equilibrium – by derivation aequus plus libra, balance, weight, pound, hence ‘equal balance’. Libra is the seventh sign of the zodiac, represented by a pair of scales. (That is why the abbreviation for the word pound, a weight, is lb and the symbol for pound, the monetary unit, is £.) Equilibrium is a state of physical balance, especially between opposing forces. When you are very drunk you may have difficulty keeping your equilibrium.
The equator divides the earth into equal halves, and words like equation, equivalent, equidistant, equiangular, and equilateral (from Latin latus, lateris, side) are self-explanatory.
Not to be confused with horses
Equestrian is someone on a horse (as pedestrian is someone on foot); an equestrienne is a women on a horse (if you must make the distinction); and equine is like a horse, as in appearance or characteristics, or descriptive of horses.
Equestrian is also an adjective referring to horseback riding, as an equestrian statue; and equine is also a noun, i.e. a horse.
So the equ– in these words, from Latin equus, horse, is not to be confused with the equ– in the words of the previous section which is from aequus, equal.
Do you hear voices?
Equivocal, you should recall, combines aequus with vox, vocis, voice; and vox, vocis combines with fero, to bear or carry, to form vociferous, ‘carrying (much) voice’, hence loud, noisy, clamorous, as vociferous demands (not at all quiet or subtle).
If you are vocal, you express yourself readily and freely by voice: vocal music is sung, and you know what your vocal cords are for.
To vocalize is to give voice to (‘vocalize your anger, don’t hold it in!’), or to sing the vocals (or voice parts) of music. (Can you write the noun form of the verb vocalize? ________________) A vocalist is a singer.
Can you match the words?
equity = fairness, justice
inequity = unfairness, injustice
iniquity = sinfulness; wickedness
equinox = time when night and day are of equal length
nocturne = night music
equanimity = balance of mind; composure
equilibrium = balance
equestrian = horseback rider
vociferous = noisy, clamorous
equine = a horse
Do you understand the words?
Is life always equitable? No
Does the cynic expect more inequity than equity in life? Yes
Do ethical people practice iniquity? No
Does the equinox occur once a month? No
Are nocturnal animals active at night? Yes
If you preserve your equanimity, do you often get excited? No
Is it easy to maintain your equilibrium on icy ground? No
Is equability the mark of a calm, even-tempered person? Yes
Does an equilateral triangle have equal sides? Yes
Is an equine a dog? No
SESSION 4 – THE FEEL-GOOD FACTOR
How to tickle
Titillate comes from a Latin verb meaning to tickle. You can (figuratively) titillate people, or their minds, fancies, or palates by charm, brilliance, wit, promises, or in many other ways.
Titillation has the added meaning of light sexual stimulation.
How to flatter
A compliment is a courteous expression of praise; flattery is stronger, and often insincere. Adulation is flattery and worship carried to an excessive degree. (The derivation is from a Latin verb meaning to fawn upon.) The adjective is adulatory.
Ways of writing
Proscribe, to forbid, is commonly used for medical, religious, or legal prohibitions. For example, the church proscribes, or announces a proscription against, such activities as may harm its parishioners. The derivation is the prefix pro-, before, plus scribo, scriptus, to write.
Scribo, scriptus is the building block of scores of common English words: scribe, scribble, prescribe, describe, subscribe, script, the Scriptures, manuscript, typescript, etc. Describe uses the prefix de-, down – to describe is, etymologically, ‘to write down’ about. Manuscript, combining manus, hand (as in manual labour), with scriptus, is something handwritten. The Scriptures are holy writings. To subscribe (as to a magazine) is to write one’s name under an order or contract (sub, under, as in subway, subsurface, etc.). To inscribe is to write in or into (a book, for example, or metal or stone). A postscript is something written after (Latin post, after) the main part is finished.
Note how –scribe verbs change to nouns and adjectives:
describe description descriptive
You are familiar with the word via, by way of, which is from the Latin word for road. When something is obvious, etymologically it is right there in the middle of the road where no one can fail to see it. And if you meet an obstacle in the road and dispose of it forthwith, you are doing what obviate says. Thus, if you review your work daily in some college subject, frenzied ‘cramming’ at the end of the term will be obviated. The noun is obviation.
Militate derives from militis, one of the forms of the Latin noun meaning soldier or fighting man. If something militates against you, it fights against you, i.e., works to your disadvantage.
The adjective militant comes from the same root. The noun is militancy, and militant is also a noun for the person – ‘Steve is a militant in the Animal Liberation movement’.
First the bad news
Built on Latin malus, bad, evil, to malign is to speak evil about, to defame, to slander. Malign is also an adjective meaning bad, harmful, evil, hateful. Another adjective form is malignant, as in ‘a malignant glance’ or ‘a malignant growth’, i.e., one that is cancerous (bad).
The noun of malignant is malignancy, which, medically, is a cancerous growth, or, generally, the condition of harmfulness. The noun form of the adjective malign is malignity.
Observe how we can construct English words by combining malus with other Latin roots.
Add the root dico, dictus, to say or tell, to form malediction, a curse, i.e., an evil saying. Adjective: maledictory.
Add the root volo, to wish, to will, or to be willing, and we can construct the adjective malevolent, wishing evil or harm – a malevolent glance, attitude, feeling, etc. The noun is malevolence.
Add the root facio, factus, to do or make (also spelled, in English words, fec-, fic-, factus, or as a verb ending, fy), to form malefactor – a wrongdoer, a criminal – a malefactor commits a malefaction, an evil deed.
Other common words also spring from Latin malus: words like maladjusted, malcontent, malpractice, malnutrition, etc., all with the connotation of badness.
Can you match the words?
titillation = pleasurable stimulation; tickling
adulation = worship; excessive flattery
proscription = prohibition
militancy = aggressiveness
malignity = hatefulness; harmfulness
malediction = a curse
maladroitness = clumsiness
obviation = fact or act of making unnecessary or of doing away with
malevolence = quality of wishing evil; ill-will
malefactor = a wrongdoer
Do you understand the words?
Does a malignant look indicate kindly feelings? No
Is a cancer sometimes called a malignancy? Yes
Is a manuscript written with a typewriter? No
If the play is a tragedy, do you expect to be titillated by it? No
Do people enjoy having maledictions hurled at them? No
Is a maleficent act likely to cause harm or hurt? Yes
Does maladroitness show skill? Yes
Is a malefactor a good person? No
Does an adulatory attitude show exaggerated admiration? Yes
Is militancy the same as passiveness? No
SESSION 5 – GOOD AND BAD IN EVERYONE
So now what’s the good news?
Malus is bad; bonus is good. The adverb from the Latin adjective bonus is bene, and bene is the root found in words that contrast with the mal– terms we studied in the previous session.
So benign and benignant are kindly, not harmful, as in a benign judge, a benign tumour (not cancerous), a benignant attitude to wrongdoers. The corresponding nouns are benignity and benignancy.
A malediction is a curse; a benediction is a blessing, a ‘saying good’. The adjective is benedictory.
In contrast to maleficient is beneficent, doing good. The noun is beneficence.
In contrast to malefactor is benefactor, one who does good things for another; a woman who does this is a benefactress. And the person receiving the benefaction is a beneficiary.
So let others be malevolent towards you – confuse them by being benevolent – wish them well.
The adjective bonus, good, is found in English bonus, extra payment, and in bona fide, etymologically, ‘in good faith’, hence valid, without pretence – as a bona fide offer. Fides is Latin for faith or trust, as in fidelity, faithfulness, and infidelity (Latin in-, not), unfaithfulness, especially to the marriage vows.
Saying, doing, wishing
Dictate, dictator, dictation, dictatorial – words that signify telling others what to do – are built on dico, dictus, to say, as is predict, to tell beforehand (pre-, before).
Contradict, to say against, or to make an opposite statement, combines dico with contra-, against, opposite; and addiction, etymologically ‘a saying to or towards’, combines dico and ad-, to, towards.
Facio, factus means to do or make. Thus factory is a place where things are made (-ory, place where); fiction, something made up or invented; artificial, made by human art rather than occurring in nature; and clarify, simplify, and magnify (magnus, large) among hundreds of other –fy verbs.
Volo, to wish, to be willing (as in malevolent, benevolent), occurs in voluntary, involuntary, volunteer, each expressing wish or willingness. Less common, and from the same root, is volition, the act or power of willing or wishing, as in ‘of her own volition’.
|Teaser questions for the amateur etymologist
Thinking of the roots animus (mind) in equanimity and magnus (large) in magnify, can you combine these two roots to form a noun meaning, etymologically, largeness of mind? Can you work out the adjectival form, ending in –ous, of the noun you have constructed?
Answer: Magnanimity. Adjective: magnanimous.
If equilateral means equal-sided, can you construct an adjective meaning two-sided?
Answer: Bilateral, as in a bilateral decision, i.e., one made by the two sides or two people involved. On the other hand, a unilateral decision is made by one person, without consultation with others.
Trans– is a prefix meaning across. Build a verb meaning to write across (from one form or language to another). What is the noun derived from this verb?
Answer: Transcribe. Noun: transcription. For example, a musical transcriber arranges a musical composition for an instrument, group, etc. other than the one for which the work was originally written.
What disease was so named on the erroneous assumption that it was caused by ‘bad air’?
Answer: Malaria was once thought to have been caused by the ‘bad air’ of swamps; actually, it was (and is) transmitted to humans by infected anopheles mosquitoes breeding and living in swamps and other places where there is stagnant water.
Facio (to make) may appear in English words as fec-. Using the prefix con-, together, can you form a noun sometimes used as a synonym for a sweet, cake, or ice cream (etymologically, ‘something made together’)?
Answer: Confection. The word is hardly used today with this meaning, except perhaps by members of an older generation who remember confectioner’s shops.
If you please!
Placate is built on the root plac– which derives from two related Latin verbs meaning (1) to please and (2) to appease or pacify.
If you succeed in placating an angry colleague, you turn that person’s hostile attitude into one that is friendly or favourable. The noun is placation, the adjective either placative or placatory. A person who can be soothed, whose hostility can be changed to friendliness, is placable. The opposite is implacable, which has taken on the added meaning of unyielding to entreaty or pity; hence, harsh, relentless.
The noun form of implacable is implacability. Can you say the noun derived from placable?
If you are placid, you are calm, easygoing, undisturbed – etymologically, you are pleased with things as they are. The noun is placidity.
If you are complacent, you are pleased with yourself (com-, from con-, with, together); you may, in fact, be too pleased with yourself for your own good. The noun is complacence or complacency.
How to give – and forgive
To condone is to forgive or be uncritical of (an offence or an antisocial act). You may condone shoplifting from a supermarket or exceeding the speed limit, though you personally observe the law with scrupulousness. The noun is condonation.
Condone is built on Latin dono, to give, the root found in donor, one who gives; donate, to give; and donation, a gift.
Can you match the words?
benign = kindly, good-natured, not cancerous
benedictory = of the nature of, or relating to, blessings
volition = free will
bona fide = in good faith; sincere; valid
dictatorial = domineering; giving orders in a manner permitting no refusal
placatory = tending to pacify or to change hostility to friendliness
implacable = not to be soothed or pacified; unyielding to
placid = calm, unruffled, undisturbed
complacent = self-satisfied; smug
fidelity = faithfulness
Do you understand the words?
Are benedictions given in houses of worship? Yes
Is it pleasant to be in recipient of a beneficent act? Yes
Are kind people benevolent? Yes
Do placatory gestures often heal wounds and soothe disgruntled friends? Yes
Are some unambitious people complacent? Yes
Does benignity show malice? No
Is a benefaction an act or philanthropy? Yes
Is an implacable foe of corruption likely to condone corrupt acts? No
Is a bona fide offer made insincerely? No
Does a benignant attitude indicate hostility? No
Can you guess which languages (or where in the world) these words come from?
Answers: 1-an Australian Aboriginal language, 2-Czech, 3-Inuit (Eskimo), 4-Icelandic, 5-Russian, 6-Hindi (India), 7-Aztec (Central America), 8-Swedish, 9-Hawaiian, 10-Swahili (East Africa)