What's in a word?

December 14, 2009 by barbara

by barbara

Today's word list:

Clinch. Today’s Strib proclaims that the Vikes clinched a playoff berth yesterday when they defeated Cincinnati. Clinched has been co-opted by the world of sports, a far cry from its etymological origin. Related to clench. To clinch is to bend a nail point that has gone through to the other side of a board so it can’t be pulled out easily. Ergo, to secure in place. From whence came “to settle decisively,” etc. May you sleep well tonight having this clarity. Skol, Vikes!

Suspended, as in Copenhagen talks suspended as developing nations walk out. An online etymology dictionary tells us that this hummer dates back to the late 13th century, and probably comes from the Latin suspendere. Sub (up from under) plus pendere (cause to hang, weight). We are told the literal meaning (“to cause to hang by a support from above”) showed up in the mid-15th century. And maybe there is support from above for the little people who in their immense frustration kicked the shins of the great and greedy nations that are playing fast and loose with climate change. Ooopsy. There I go, editorializing again.

Infidelity, most notably in recent time a tag attached to Mark Sanford and Tiger Woods. Origin? That Latin thing again. Infidelitas, from whence commeth infidel. Unfaithfulness. First documented use re “unfaithfulness or disloyalty to a person” dated in early 1500s and encompasses unfaithfulness to spouse. It appears Mr. Woods has sewed up the all-time bragging rights to the dubious distinction of most instances of infidelity with greatest number of people in shortest amount of time. More words.

Cojones. Wiki says cojones is a vulgar Spanish word for testicles, meant to denote courage; it corresponds to balls in English and bollocks in British English (though the latter is less commonly used as a synonym for courage). See infidelity above.

Filibuster. Direct from the Online Etymology Dictionary: 1587 as flibutor "pirate," probably ultimately from Du. vrijbuiter "freebooter," used of pirates in the West Indies as Sp. filibustero and Fr. flibustier, either or both of which gave the word to Amer.Eng. (see freebooter). Used 1850s and '60s of lawless adventurers from the U.S. who tried to overthrow Central American countries. The legislative sense is first recorded c.1851, probably because obstructionist legislators "pirated" debate. Not technically restricted to U.S. Senate, but that's where the strategy works best. Yo ho ho, Lieberman.

Freebooter. Someone who joins in a war in order to steal other people's goods and money. Yo ho ho, Lieberman and Blackwater.

Progressive. My thought is that this is a term that surfaced when Republicans succeeded in making liberal as appealing as H1N1. Yes, the term has been used since early in the last century and perhaps before that. And here’s the problem with progressive. No one really knows what it means and/or, we have very little agreement about it. I’m thinking this word needs its own post one of these days. For now, the most simplistic definition I ran across: someone with modern ideas who wants to change things. Modern ideas. Sounds kind of 1950s, doesn’t it?

Now progressing to the other tasks du jour. Toodles.

(crossposted at Firedoglake's Seminal.)

Posted in


Susan Lenfestey (not verified) | December 15, 2009 - 11:19am

OMG, don't get me started on "progressives". (Or omg for that matter.) It's a terrible tag for those of us who may find everything the "conservatives" stand for to be repugnant, but just may be a tad regressive in our own beliefs. Old person alert here, but I am wistful for some things from the past. I don't mean the stuff that's on those nostalgic Art Linkletter-ish lists that my sister-in-law's live-in boyfriend of 35 years sends around after we've argued about about say, bank regulation, "socialized medicine", or gay marriage (he has too much respect for the sanctity of marriage even though -- oh, never mind) as if to say, "Now here's something that commonsensical (white) folks of every persuasion can all agree on."

And then it goes on to a litany of lost pleasures -- sledding in the park because trial lawyers have made it too risky, neighbors helping neighbors rather than waiting for a government hand-out, Christmas creches on the public square, teachers being allowed to discipline the trouble-makers, parents being allowed to spank their children (did I say pleasures?) kids walking home from school for lunch served by mom, etc. Most of it very Fifties stuff, fun for the top dogs (Martinis in the bar car on the commute home, whoopee! No wonder suburban dads were so much more fun than suburban moms.) but not so great for whole chunks of folks not at the top, say blacks, Indians, Asians, gays . . .

But I am wistful for a time when we walked more and talked more, and did less of what I'm doing right now. The human connection, it seems to me, is as endangered as the polar bear. As the ice fields melt and the planet warms, our relationships take on the chill of the glowing screen in front of us.

I am wistful for smaller farms that provide a decent living, for food without a chemically induced shelf life of eternity, for landscapes not interrupted by cell phone towers blinking like the red dots on a google map. (Why has no one raised a ruckus about this? In the sky of remote northern Michigan, where we once saw only northern lights, we now see seven blinking towers. Hey, everyone's gotta be in touch, and how else would we ever get picked up at the airport?)

I am wistful for a time when TV's most embarrassing commercials were for cross-your-heart bras and not for pills promising hard-ons for geezers. I'm wistful for Walter Cronkite and one hour of news, not 24 hours of chat, slurs and Tiger Woods. Okay, let's go full out Luddite here, I'm wistful for a time when there was no TV, when children weren't exposed to murder and rape and generally sleazy behavior in their day-to-day lives.

I'm wistful for the good old Cold War, when most of the evil in the world could be neatly dumped into one huge nation, when we could protect ourselves by sitting under our school desks, and the war could be ended with the tear-down of a wall. I'm wistful for a time when we thought Cuba was a threat, when we had a well-defined enemy, not mobile bands of heartless thugs, killing in God's name. I'm wistful for flying without stripping down, for joy-filled greetings and tear-filled departures at the airport gate.

Well, here I am, doing just the sort of list I said I hate. Point is, if I have one, that I've always chafed under the rubric of "Progressive".

Besides all the reasons above, it sounds so -- pompous. Elite. The other side, the so-called conservatives, always seem to win the war of words, at least the sound byte, the phrase. They did it when they dubbed themselves "pro-life" on abortion issues, making my side sound pro-death. Which caused my side to call themselves "pro-choice", which, face it, just doesn't have the same ring. Freedom of choice? What sort of generalized nonsense is that? We don't really believe in freedom of choice in so many other areas -- guns, off-shore drilling and banking, dumping toxins into our lakes and rivers -- anymore than they really care about the lives of anyone but the unborn and the nearly-dead.

So let's come up with something else that defines us better. The jaded-but-still-hopefuls? The Nice Ones? The Empathetics? The Smarties? Hey, how about democrats, small d, as in those who believe in democracy? "A system of government by the whole population . . . typically through elected representatives." Not by lobbyists, not by corporate chieftans, not by religious leaders. The Clothes Line is open.


barbara | December 15, 2009 - 9:46pm

This is funny, in that non-humorous way of funny. I had no idea you and I share an aversion to "progressive." Who knew? And yes to elitist and pompous and made-uppey sounding.

As for caring for the nearly-dead? That does not apply to soldiers, New Orleans residents nor to seniors on the brink of slipping into the eternal abyss.

One definition of progressive among many: A person who actively favors or strives for progress toward better conditions, as in society or government. And said progress is made incrementally.