Thursday, March 13, 2014

Vocabulary: women and confusing words

A few smaller categories of vocabulary words to close out this brief series.

"Gnomic" and "sententious" both describe someone who writes or speaks in aphorisms, while an "atticism" is a concise and elegant expression, not necessarily aphoristic.

A "sybarite" is someone devoted to pleasure, while a "feckless" person has no sense of responsibility or is just lazy.  "Otiose" can describe someone at leisure, or a lazy person; or it can mean ineffective, futile, or useless -- I'm surprised we don't see this word more often, as it seems to cover a number of common insults.

I found three words that begin with the prefix "pleo-," whose meaning I did not know before.  A "pleonasm" is the use of unnecessary words, such as "will and testament" -- which essentially mean the same thing -- or "burning fire."  "Pleochroic" describes something (often a crystal) that appears to be different colours depending on the angle from which you view it.  "Pleionosis" means exaggerating one's own importance.  As you may have inferred from these words, the prefix "pleo-" (or "pleio-") means "more."

Three words on my list refer specifically to women.  A "termagant" is a violent woman, while a "malkin" is an untidy woman.  "Malkin" can also mean a mop, a cat, or a rabbit, which seems like rather a lot for a single obscure word.  "Gamine" is the most interesting.  The definition that I originally copied (the source of which I am unable to remember) is, "a girl of ingratiating qualities, typically slight build, and a pert saucy air or a wistful elfish charm."  Considering that it originated simply as the feminine form of "gamin," meaning "urchin," the word "gamine" has come to carry quite a full load of ideas in its connotations and denotations.  It has its own entry in Wikipedia, which cites Audrey Hepburn as the archetypal gamine, although the word originated in the 1890's and was applied to actresses in early silent films.

In my vocabulary collecting, I have, of course, discovered a number of word pairs that can easily be confused.  "Procellous" means stormy, but "proceleusmatic" means inspiring or inciting to action.  "Ligneous" means woody, but "caliginous" means misty or dark.  A "recreant" is a coward or a traitor, while a "recreation" is, of course, a pasttime.  A "cormorant" is a greedy person (or a type of seabird that eats voraciously), while a "termagant," as indicated above, is a violent woman.  "Lugubrious" means mournful, but "lucubration" means laborious study or the product of such study, such as a dissertation.  With that, I will leave it to you whether these entries on vocabulary have been either lugubrious or lucubrating (which I'm pretty sure is not a word, but it seems like a logical formation), and I promise not to impose more of these for a while.

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