THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY

In this remit we will look at some more words to describe people and the way they behave. The central theme is the idea of ‘fullness’ – you can be full of compliance and servility; full of complaints; full of snobbery; full of noise; full of drink; full of sorrows; and many more.

SESSION 26 – TEN USEFUL WORDS ENDING IN –OUS

Compliance

The Latin root sequor means to follow.  People in certain jobs – waiters, clerks, and domestic servants, for example – are forced, often contrary to their natural temperaments, to act in an excessively subservient and humble manner.  They must follow the lead of their customers and employers, bending their own wills to the desires of those they serve.  They are, etymologically, full of following after, or  –

obsequious

Complaints

The Latin root queror means to complain – and anyone full of complaints, constantly nagging, harping, fretful, petulant, whining, never satisfied, may accordingly be called  –

querulous

Snobbery

The Latin root cilium means eyelid; super means above; and above the eyelid, as anyone can plainly see, is the eyebrow.  Now there are certain obnoxious people who go around raising their eyebrows in contempt and disdain at ordinary mortals like you and me.  Such contemptuous, sneering, overbearingly conceited people are called –

supercilious

Noise

The Latin root strepo means to make a noise.  Anyone who is unruly, boisterous, resistant to authority, unmanageable – and in a noisy, troublesome manner is –

obstreperous

Moneyless

The Latin root pecus means cattle – and at one time in human history a person’s weath was measured not by stocks and shares but by stocks of domestic animals.  Someone who had pots of pecus, then, was rich – someone without pecus was out of money, broke.  And so today we call someone who is habitually without funds, who seems generally to be full of a complete lack of money  –

impecunious

Horses

The French word cheval means horse; and in medival times only gentlemen and knights rode on horses – common people walked.  Traditionally (but not necessarily in actual fact) knights were courteous to women and self-sacrificing when their own interests came in conflict with those of the fair sex.  Hence we call a modern man who has a knightly attitude to women  –

chivalrous

No harm done

The Latin root noceo means to injure; someone who need cause you no fear, so harmless is that person, so unable to interfere, so unlikely to get you into trouble, is called  –

innocuous

alcoholic

The Latin root bibo means to drink; and one who likes to triple beyond the point of sobriety, who has an overfondness for drinks with a pronounced alcoholic content, is called, usually humorously  –

bibulous

Like death itself

The Latin root cado means to fall – one’s final fall is of course always in death, and so someone who looks like a corpse (figuratively speaking), who is pale, gaunt, thin, haggard, with sunken eyes and wasted limbs, in other words the extreme opposite of the picture of glowing health, is called  –

cadaverous

Pain and misery

The Latin root doleo means to suffer or grieve – one who is mournful and sad, whose melancholy comes from physical pain or mental distress, who seems to be suffering or grieving, is called –

dolorous

Can you match the words?

obsequious = ingratiatingly polite

querulous = complaining

supercilious = snobbish

obstreperous = unmanageable

impecunious = short of funds

chivalrous = courteous to women

innocuous = harmless

bibulous = addicted to drink

cadaverous = gaunt

dolorous = sorrowful

Do you understand the words?

Is a bibulous character a teetotaller?  No

Are querulous people satisfied?  No

Are supercilious people usually popular?  No

Are students generally impecunious?  Yes

Do some women like chivalrous men?  Yes

Are innocuous people dangerous?  No

Do obsequious people usually command our respect?  No

Is a cadaverous-looking individual the picture of health?  No

Is a dolorous attitude characteristic of gregarious people?  No

Is an obstreperous puppy hard to train?  Yes

SESSION 27 – VARIOUS GLOOMY WORDS

An obsequious person is servile and fawning.  The same Latin root, sequor, to follow, occurs in many English words.

obsequies – At a funeral, the mourners follow after the corpse.  Hence, obsequies are the burial ceremonies, the funeral rites.

sequel – A sequel may be a literary work, such as a novel or a film, that follows another, continuing the same subject, dealing with the same people or village, etc. or it may be an occurrence that grows out of or follows another.

sequence – In order, one item following another, as in, ‘The sequence of events of the next few days left him breathless.’

subsequent – A subsequent letter, paragraph, time, etc. is one that follows another.

Any other word containing the root sequ– is likely to have some relationship to the idea of following.

The Latin root pecus meaning cattle gives us impecunious.  We also find it in pecuniary – pertaining to money, as in a pecuniary consideration, pecuniary affairs, etc.  In law, pecuniary advantage has the meaning of financial gain dishonestly come by, and is a criminal offence.

Cheval, French for horse, comes from Latin caballus, an inferior horse. Caballus is found in English words in the spelling caval-.

cavalcade – A procession of persons on horseback, as in a parade. The relatively new word motorcade, a procession in motor vehicles, was formed by analogy.

cavalier – As a noun, a cavalier was once a mounted soldier.  As an adjective, cavalier describes actions and attitudes that are haughty, unmindful of others’ feelings, and offhand, such attributes often being associated with people in power (the military being one of the powers-that-be).  Thus, ‘After the cavalier treatment I received, I never wished to return’, signifying that I was pretty much made to feel unimportant and inferior.

cavalry – The mounted, or ‘horsed’ part of an army.

chivalry – Noun form of chivalrous.  Can you write the alternate noun form ending in –ness?

chivalric – Less commonly used adjectival form, identical in meaning to chivalrous.

Another Latin root for horse, as you know, is equus, found in words we have already discussed, such as equestrian – a horseman, and equine – horselike.  Another one is equerry, an officer in the royal household, originally responsible for the horses.

The Latin root noceo means to injure; from it comes innocuous, harmless.  Related words include (1) innocent – not guilty of crime or injury; and, (2) noxious – harmful, poisonous; unwholesome.

Do not confuse innocuous with inoculate (to give an injection producing immunity), which is based on in– plus oculus, eye (see Remit 8).

The Latin word cado, meaning to fall, is the root of cadaver – a corpse, literally, especially one used for surgical dissection.  From that comes cadaverous, looking like a corpse.

Another derivative is decadent – etymologically, falling down (de– is a prefix one meaning of which is down, as in descend, climb down; decline, turn down, etc.).  If something is in a decadent state, it is deteriorating, becoming corrupt or self-indulgent. Decadence is a state of decay.  Generally decadent and decadence are used figuratively – they refer not the actual physical decay (as of a dead body), but to moral or spiritual decay, or a decline in artistic standards.

The Latin word doleo, to suffer, has a related noun, dolor, grief, sorrow.  We are familiar with it as it occurs in the girl’s name Dolores (actually derived from Spanish).  Other related words are:

delorous – causing grief or sorrow.

doleful – a word referring somewhat humorously to exaggerated dismalness, sadness, or dreariness; ‘a basset hound has a doleful expression’.

condole – etymologically, to suffer or grieve with (Latin con-, with, together).  The noun condolence is much more frequently heard than the verb, as in, ‘Let me offer you my condolences’, usually said to someone mourning the death of a friend or relative.

Even though it is undoubtedly a sorrowful experience to be on the dole, that word is unrelated.  It comes from an Anglo-Saxon word dal, meaning a share.

Can you match the words?

obsequies = funeral rites

sequence = proper order

pecuniary = pertaining to money

noxious = poisonous, harmful

doleful = exaggeratedly sorrowful

cavalcade = procession of mounted riders

equine = horselike

cadaver = corpse

decadence = spiritual or artistic decline

condolence = expression of sympathy

Do you understand the words?

Are speeches usually made during obsequies? Yes

Is Rocky II a sequel to the film Rocky?  Yes

Is a banker an expert in pecuniary matters?  Yes

Is arsenic a noxious chemical?  Yes

Does a cavalier attitude show a spirit of humility?  No

Does an equestrian ride a bicycle?  No

Do humans possess many equine characteristics?  No

Is an iconoclast likely to consider religion a decadent institution?  Yes

Is chivalry dead?  No (or Yes, depending on your point of view)

Are condolences appropriate at a wedding ceremony?  No

SESSION 28 – TEN MORE USEFUL WORDS

For want of funds

There are people who are forced (through no fault of their own) to pursue an existence not only devoid of such luxuries as television sets, electronic orange-juice squeezers, Jacuzzis, etc., but lack also in many of the pure necessities of living – sufficient food, heated homes, hot water, vermin-free surroundings, decent clothing, etc.

Such people live:

in penury

At least watch it

If no one loves you, and if you can find no one on whom to lavish your love, you may perhaps satisfy your emotional longings and needs by getting your feelings secondhand – through reading love stories, going to the movies, watching soap operas, etc.

These are:

vicarious feelings

Truth to tell

Some people are naturally incapable of a lie. Even in circumstances where it might be more comfortable for all concerned if they covered up a bit, they will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

They are:

veracious

How not to call a spade…

Words are only symbols of things – they are not the things themselves.  But many people identify the word and the thing so closely that they fear to use certain words that symbolize things that are unpleasant to them.  These people prefer circumlocutions – words that ‘talk around’ an idea or that imply something but don’t come right out and say so directly.  For example:

Word Circumlocution
die Depart this life; pass away
tell a lie Be economical with the truth
buttocks Derriere; rear end; behind; sit-upon; backside; posterior
urinate (women) Spend a penny; wash your hands
drunk Tired and emotional

 

The left-hand column is the direct, non-pussyfooting word. The right-hand column is made up of:

euphemisms

Small talk

Never bogged down in euphemisms, always ready to talk, never at a loss for words, some people are unfailingly:

fluent

Everything but give milk

You’ve seen a cow contendedly munching the cud. Nothing seems capable of disturbing this animal – and the animal seems to want nothing more out of life than to lead a simple, vegetable existence.

Some people are like a cow – calm, patient, placid. They are:

bovine

Good old days

Do you sometimes experience a keen, almost physical, longing for associations or places of the past? When you are away from home and friends and family, do pleasant remembrances crowd in on your mind to the point where your present loneliness becomes almost unbearable, and you actually feel a little sick?

This common feeling is called:

nostalgia

Sounds that grate

Some sounds are so harsh, grating, and discordant that they offend the ear. They lack all sweetness, harmony, pleasantness.  Traffic noises, a flock of seagulls…

Such blaring, ear-splitting sounds are called:

cacophonous

Eating habits

Lions, tigers, wolves, and some other mammals subsist entirely on flesh. So also do spiders which trap and eat insects.

These creatures are:

carnivorous

Private and public

There are certain things most of us do in private, like taking a bath. Some people like to engage in other activities in complete privacy – eating, reading, watching TV, for example.  The point is that, while these activities may be conducted in privacy, there is never a reason for keeping them secret.

But there are other activities that are not only kept private, but are well-shrouded in secrecy and concealed from public knowledge. These activities are unethical, illegal, or unsafe – like having an affair with your best friend’s husband, bribing public officials, hiring a hit-man, etc.

Such arrangements, activities, or meetings are called:

clandestine

Can you match the words?

penury = poverty

vicarious = experienced at one remove

fluent = talkative

euphemism = circumlocution

veracious = always honest

bovine = placid; stolid; cowlike

nostalgia = homesickness

cacophony = harsh noise

carnivorous = meat-eating

clandestine = secret

Do you understand the words?

Do wealthy people normally live in penury?  No

Is a vicarious thrill one that comes from direct participation?  No

Do veracious people tell lies?  No

Is a euphemism likely to be used by a down-to-earth person?  No

Are bovine people highly-strung and nervous?  No

Is a fluent person often stuck for the right word?  No

Does one get a feeling of nostalgia for past times?  Yes

Is cacophony pleasant and musical?  No

Do carnivorous animals eat meat?  Yes

Is a clandestine meeting conducted in secrecy?  Yes

SESSION 29 – TRUTH AND LIKENESS

Money, and what it will buy

Penury, from Latin penuria, need, neediness, is dire, abject poverty, complete lack of financial resources.  A close synonym of penury, and one of equal strength, is destitution. Destitute people do not even have the means for mere subsistence – as such, they are perhaps on the verge of starvation.  A milder degree of poverty is indicated by the word indigence; indigent people are not absolutely penniless, merely living in reduced circumstances.

To turn now to the brighter side, having plenty of money is expressed by affluenceAffluent people, or those living in affluent circumstances, are more than comfortable.  A much stronger term is opulence, which not only implies much greater wealth than affluence, but in addition suggests lavish expenditures and ostentatiously luxurious surroundings; more money than taste.

Affluent is a combination of the prefix ad-, to, towards (changing to af– before a root beginning with f), plus the Latin verb fluo, to flow – affluence is that delightful condition in which money keeps flowing to us. Opulent is from Latin opulentus, wealthy.  No other English words derive from this root.

Doing and feeling

If you watch a furious athletic event, and you get tired, though the athletes expend all the energy – that’s vicarious fatigue.  If you watch a mother in film or play suffer horribly at the death of her child, and you go through the same agony, that’s vicarious torment.

The word comes from Latin vicarious, a deputy.  And that’s where the vicar comes in – technically, he is the deputy priest in place of the rector.

Nothing but the truth

Habitually honest people are veracious; their quality of truthfulness is veracity.  (Do not confuse these with voracious, voracity – see the next Session!)  The Latin root is verus, true.  It also occurs in the English words to aver, to assert that something is true; verify, to check the truth of something; and verisimilitude, likeness to the truth. Verus is also the source of our very.

An exploration of various good things

A euphemism is a word or expression that has been substituted for another that is likely to offend – it is built on the Greek prefix eu-, good, the root pheme, voice, and the noun suffix –ism.  (Etymologically, ‘Something said in a good voice’.)  Adjective: euphemistic.

Other English words constructed from the prefix eu-:

euphony – good sound; pleasant lilt or rhythm. Adjective: euphonic or euphonious.

eulogy – etymologically, ‘good speech’; a formal speech of praise, usually delivered as a funeral oration. Logos here means word or speech, as it also does in monologue, dialogue, epilogue, and prologue; but logos more commonly means science or study.  Adjective: eulogistic; verb: eulogize.

euphoria – good feeling, a sense of mental buoyancy and physical well-being. Adjective: euphoric.

euthanasia – etymologically, ‘good death’; method of painless death for people suffering from incurable diseases – not legal at the present time, but advocated by many people. The word derives from eu– plus Greek thanatos, death.

So to speak

A fluent person produces words in a flow – the Latin root is fluo, to flow, which we have already met in affluent.  Other derivatives include fluid, influence, and confluence (a ‘flowing together’).

Our speakers’ fluency will enable them to avoid the following two faults of expression.

A cliché is a pattern of words which was once new and fresh, but which now is so old and threadbare that only banal, unimaginative speakers and writers ever use it.  Examples are: fast and furious; unsung heroes; by leaps and bounds; conspicuous by its absence; green with envy; etc.  The most pointed insult to a person’s way of talking is, ‘You speak in clichés.’

A platitude is similar to a cliché, in that it is a dull, trite, hackneyed, unimaginative pattern of words – but, to add insult to injury (cliché),  the speaker uses it as if he just made it up!

Platitude derives from Greek platy, board or flat, plust the noun suffix –tude.  Words like plateau (flat land), plate and platter (flat dishes), and platypus (flat foot) all derive from the same root as platitude, a flat statement, i.e., one that falls flat, despite the speaker’s high hopes for it.  The adjective is platitudinous.

Can you match the words?

fluent = smooth-talking

destitute = in want

opulent = ostentatiously wealthy

vicarious = secondhand

euphonic = pleasant-sounding

veracious = truthful

euphoria = mental well-being

eulogize = praise

verisimilitude = likeness to the truth

cliché = hackneyed phrase

Do you understand the words?

Do penurious people satisfy their extravagant desires?  No

Can you engage in vicarious exploits by reading spy novels?  Yes

Is indigence a sign of wealth?  No

Is a destitute person likely to have to live in want?  Yes

Are opulent surroundings indicative of great wealth?  Yes

Do parents generally indulge in euphemisms in front of young children?  Yes

Is euphoria a feeling of malaise?  No

Is euthanasia practised on animals?  Yes

Is a platitude flat and dull?  Yes

Are the works of Beethoven considered euphonious?  Yes

SESSION 30 – Etymologically speaking

People are the craziest animals

Bovine, placid like a cow, is built on bos, bovis, the Latin word for ox or cow, plus the suffix –ine, like, similar to, or characteristic of.  To call someone bovine is of course far from complimentary.  Humans are sometimes compared to other animals, as in the following adjectives:

leonine – like a lion in appearance or temperament

canine – like a dog; our canine teeth are similar to those of a dog (Latin canis, dog)

feline – catlike (Latin felis, cat)

porcine – piglike (Latin porcus, pig; hence pork)

equine – horselike; ‘horsy’ (Latin equus, horse; see Remit 1 for more words)

All these words can also be nouns meaning a number of the species in question; thus ‘All felines have whiskers.’

You can’t go home again

Nostalgia, built on two Greek roots, nostos, a return to home, and algos, pain (as in neuralgia, cardialgia, etc.) is a feeling you can’t understand until you’ve experienced it.  Your memory tends to store up the pleasant experiences of the past and when you are lonely or unhappy you may begin to relive these pleasant occurrences.  It is then that you feel the emotional pain and longing that we call nostalgia.

Purists assert that it can only refer to longing for a place, because of the meaning of its Greek root, but in fact it is more often used about a past time, as in ‘I can’t help feeling nostalgic for the sixties.

Soundings

Cacophony is itself a harsh-sounding word – and is the only one that exactly describes the ear-offending noises you are likely to hear in man-made surroundings. It is built on the Greek roots kakos, bad, harsh, or ugly, and phone, sound.  Adjective: cacophonous.

Phone, sound, is found also in:

telephone – sound from afar (Greek tele-, far)

euphony – pleasant sound (Greek eu-, good)

saxophone – a musical instrument (hence sound) invented by Adolphe Sax

xylophone – a musical instrument; ‘sounds through wood’ (Greek xylon, wood)

phonetics – the science of the sounds of language; the adjective is phonetic, the expert a phonetician.

The flesh and all

Carnivorous combines carnis, flesh, and voro, to devour.  A carnivorous animal, or carnivore, is one whose main diet is meat.

Voro, to devour, is the origin of other words referring to eating habits:

herbivorous – subsisting on vegetation, as do cows, deer, horses, etc. The animal is a herbivore.  (Latin herba, herb.)

omnivorous – eating everything: meat, grains, grasses, fish, insects, and anything else digestible. Humans are omnivores by nature; so, for example, are hedgehogs. Omnivorous (Latin omnis, all) refers not only to food: an omnivorous reader reads everything in great quantities (that is, devours all kinds of books).

voraciousdevouring; hence, greedy or gluttonous; one may be a voracious eater, voracious reader, voracious in one’s pursuit of money, etc.  Think of two noun forms of loquacious.  Can you write two nouns derived from voracious?  [No.  Because one’s brought to an extinction.]

‘Allness’

Latin omnis, all, is the origin of:

omnipotent – all-powerful. This comes from the Latin potens, potentis, powerful, as in potentate, a powerful ruler; impotent, powerless; potent, powerful; and potential, possessing power or ability not yet exercises.  Can you write the noun form of omnipotent?

omniscient – all-knowing: hence, infinitely wise (Latin sciens, knowing).

omnipresent – present in all places at once. A synonym of omnipresent is ubiquitous, from Latin ubique, everywhere.  ‘Ubiquitous laughter greeted the press secretary’s remark’, i.e., laughter was heard everywhere in the room.

More flesh

Note how carnis, flesh, is the building block of:

carnelian – a reddish gemstone, the colour of red flesh.

carnival – originally the season of merrymaking just before Lent, when people took a last fling before saying ‘Carne vale!’  ‘Oh flesh, farewell!’  (Latin vale, farewell, goodbye).

carnal – of the flesh, as in phrases like ‘carnal pleasures’ or ‘carnal appetites’.  The noun is carnality.

carnage – great destruction of life (that is, of human flesh), as in war or mass murders.

reincarnation – a rebirth or reappearance. Believers in reincarnation maintain that one’s soul takes on new flesh after death.  The verb is to reincarnate, to bring (a soul) back in another bodily form.

incarnate – in the flesh.  If we use this adjective to call someone ‘the devil incarnate’, we mean that here is the devil in the flesh.  The verb to incarnate is to embody, give bodily form to, or make real.

 

Teaser questions for the amateur etymologist

The negative prefix in– plus doleo, to suffer, together form an adjective that etymologically should mean not suffering, but actually means idle, lazy, disliking effort or work.  What is this word?  What is the noun form?

Answer: Indolent.  The noun is indolence.  Do not confuse these words with indigent, indigence, which means poor and poverty, as discussed in Session 29.

In logic, a conclusion not based on the evidence is called a non sequitur; by extension the term is applied to any statement that appears to have no connection to what was said before.  Knowing the root sequor, how would you define this term etymologically?

Answer: Non sequitur – ‘it does not follow’.

We have seen that the Latin root verto, versus means to turn.  How do you explain the origin of (a) inversion; (b) subversion?

 

Answer: (a) inversion – prefix in– meaning in, into, so ‘turning inside out’ (or upside down).

(b) subversion – prefix sub– meaning under, from below, so ‘turning under’ (or undermining).

Pre– is a prefix that can mean before, or beyond. What does it mean in prehistoric?

Answer: Prehistoric is before history; usually taken as before the invention of writing, which is when history proper can begin.

Latin super, above or over, is used as a prefix in hundreds of English words. Can you work out a word starting with super- to fit each definition?

above others (in quality, position, etc.)

ghostly; above (or beyond) the natural

to oversee; to be in charge of

Answer: (a) Superior.  (b) Supernatural.  (c) Supervise.

 

Dark secrets

Clandestine comes from Latin clam, secretly, and implies secrecy or concealment in the working out of a plan that is dangerous or illegal. Clandestine is a stronger word than surreptitious, which means stealthy, sneaky, furtive, generally because of fear of detection.

Can you match the words?

canine = doglike

feline = catlike

voracious = greedy, devouring

omnipotent = all-powerful

omniscient = all-knowing

surreptitious = stealthy, clandestine

nostalgic = homesick

cacophonous = harsh-sounding

omnivorous = eating everything

ubiquitous = found everywhere

Do you understand the words?

Porcine appearance means wolflike appearance. No

Nostalgic feelings refer to a longing for past experiences. Yes

Cacophonous music is pleasant and sweet. No

An elephant is a carnivore.  No

An omnivorous reader does very little reading.  No

True omnipotence is unattainable by human beings.  Yes

No one is omniscient.  Yes

Carnelian is a deep blue gemstone. No

Carnality is much respected in a puritanical society. No

A surreptitious glance is meant to be conspicuous.  No

 

©Dodgsons KingsWay Sanctuary Church, 1973.

 

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