Monday, September 17, 2012

The Wordy Gurdy Plays On

I have always been fond of words. They were my best friends when I was a latchkey kid with a library next door.

My hearing is acute when one of my "friends" gains currency - particularly in the world of politics, which also interests me.

What brought this to mind was realizing that the phrase "writ large" has been springing to the lips of many commentators with unusual frequency. It's a colorful term only in that it wears the hoary coat of time long gone. Isn't this the vocabulary of the 18th century, at the latest?  What brings it back into modish use? Apparently, someone  resurrected it or simply adopted it from lawyerly language and it caught on.

I first noticed this coattail effect in the 80's. I was working for a weekly newspaper and became aware that no one I quoted or interviewed had conversations anymore. They were all having "dialogues." Nothing wrong with that except it became so universal as to be risible.

Now "risible" is a good word that, in the misty dim past, I  found used frequently in Taylor Caldwell's early works, and rarely anywhere else. But it, too, is making a comeback and I am reluctant to credit her since her books are dusty with time.

Who then?

"Redound" is a perfectly fine word but not one that rushes to everyone's mouth. It's one I have always liked and was pleased to hear Rachel Maddow use it. It is now circulating with a degree of enthusiasm.

Was it Rachel?

Probably the word that seemed to gain its highest degree of popularity among the goppers around the time of George the Better's single term was "demagogue."  When I first noticed it I have to admit I had to look up the definition. Naively, I thought that is what  people do when they don't know the meaning of something. However, I was mistaken.

In an interview just after her husband's defeat, Barbara Bush kept referring to the "bad effects" of all the "demagoguery" being the cause of his loss. She spoke with disarmingly candid certainty.

Amazingly, the interviewer (a newsman whose identity is lost to me) asked Barbara what "demagoguery" meant. I credit her with honesty but I am still blown away by her answer. "Well, I don't know," she admitted.

There is a lesson here but I don't have a word for it.


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