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October Placeholder w/Lots of Words

October 2nd, 2001 - 3:06 a.m.

I'm Currently Avoiding:

This isn't an actual diary entry, it's just going to hold October in place after I get finished with the *real* entry which is going to be written after this one. So you can pretty much disregard it unless you want to read the plethora of words...

Yes, Plethora, that's what I said

obtuse (adj. ahb-TOOSS or ub-TOOSS)

1 a : not pointed or sharp b : exceeding 90 degrees but

less than 180 degrees

2 : not quick or keen of understanding or feeling

3 : difficult to comprehend

Obtuse, which comes to us from the Latin word obtusus, meaning dull, blunt, can describe an angle that is not acute or a person who has a dull or insensitive mind. The word has also developed a somewhat controversial third sense of hard to comprehend, unclear, probably as a result of confusion with abstruse. It is now possible to speak of obtuse language and obtuse explanations, as well as obtuse angles and obtuse readers. The unclear sense of obtuse is well established, but it may attract some criticism. If you are someone who is hesitant about using new meanings of words, you should probably stick with abstruse when your intended meaning is difficult to comprehend.

tchotchke CHAHCH-kuh (noun)

: knickknack, trinket

Just as trinkets can dress up your shelves or coffee table, many words for miscellaneous objects or nondescript junk decorate our language. Knickknack, doodad, gewgaw, and whatnot are some of the more common ones. While many such

words are of unknown origin, we know that tchotchke comes

from the Yiddish tshatshke of the same meaning, and ultimately from a now-obsolete Polish word, czaczko. Tchotchke is a pretty popular word these days, but it wasn't commonly used in English until the 1970s.

reticent REH-tuh-sunt (adjective)

1 : inclined to be silent or uncommunicative in speech

: reserved

2 : restrained in expression, presentation, or appearance

3 : reluctant

"Reticent" first appeared about 170 years ago, but the

"reluctant" sense of "reticent" is a mid-20th century

introduction. Though it is now well-established, this newer

sense bothers some, particularly because it has veered away

from the word's Latin origins -- "reticent" is from the verb "reticere," meaning "to keep silent." But there is some sense in the way the newer meaning developed. We first tended to use the "reluctant" sense of "reticent" when the context was speech (as in "reticent to talk about her past"), thus keeping the word close to its "silent" sense. Eventually, however, exclusive association with speech was abandoned. Now one can be "reticent" to do anything.

portentous por-TEN-tuss (adjective)

1 : of, relating to, or constituting a portent

2 : eliciting amazement or wonder

3 : self-consciously solemn or important : pompous

It's easy to see the "portent" in "portentous," which comes to us from the Latin adjective "portentosus," itself the offspring of the noun "portentum" ("portent"). And indeed the first uses of "portentous" referred to portents (omens which foreshadow coming events). However, "portentous" quickly developed a second sense, which focused upon the reactions of an observer to a portent, describing wonder and amazement. This was followed by a third sense applied to weighty self-importance and pomposity. These days, one can speak of such things as "portentous symbols," "portentous apparitions," and "portentous announcements."

swivet SWIH-vut (noun)

: a state of extreme agitation

People have been in a swivet over one thing or another

since the 1890s. That, at least, is when the word first

appeared in print, in a collection of "Peculiar Words and

Usages" of Kentucky published by the American Dialect Society. In the ensuing years, "swivet" popped up in other pockets of the South as well. Chances are it had already been around for some time before it was recorded in writing, and by the time it was, nobody could say where or how it had originated. What we do know is that its use gradually spread, so that by the 1950s it was regularly appearing in national magazines like _Time_ and _The New Yorker_. Thus it entered the mainstream of American English.



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