Monday, September 26, 2011

Vocabulary question #2

Can someone adumbrate with precision?

Eclipse in the shade, by E. Israel

[Spoiler alert: Don't cheat!]

A warning from the article on adumbrate by The Word Detective:

A cool word should have cool ancestors, or at least a nifty story about how its parents met (“I was raised Middle English, but one day a charming Romany verb came into our tavern…”).

But sometimes knowing a word’s history can dim one’s enjoyment. “Nice,” for instance, is a “nice” word meaning “pleasant or agreeable.” Too bad it originally meant “stupid” (from the Latin nescius, not knowing), eh?

And if I say that I’m “sanguine” about my favorite team’s prospects for the next season, I mean I’m cheerful and optimistic, which is quite a departure from the one of the word’s meanings in the 18th century, “causing or delighting in bloodshed.”

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