February 10, 2007


sub·fusc: adj. | sub-fusk |
2 : having little of brightness or appeal : DRAB, DINGY

"the moment when the word Austerity was to take to itself a new subfusc and squalid twist of meaning" -- Osbert Sitwell
"that gray, impoverished, subfusc community" -- Marguerite Steen

Etymology of subfusc: Latin subfuscus brownish, dusky, from sub- near, almost + fuscus dark brown, blackish

• If you are interested in first understanding the chromatic nuances of fuscous so that you can then delve deeper into the darker sub-shades of meaning surrounding subfuscous, see if the following uber-rigorous definition of fuscous sheds any light on your needs. (Don't say I didn't warn you. B'n J'n):
"fus·cous: of any of several colors averaging a brownish gray which is lighter than taupe, lighter and less strong than average chocolate, and less strong and slightly redder than mouse gray" [Got that? Does your mind's eye create a gestalt of this "averaging" of shades? I got lost after "lighter and less strong than average chocolate."]
--Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com (10 Feb. 2007).



  1. This word, "subfuscous", sounds like it might be a substitute for a naughty, four-letter word. "Drab", one meaning of "subfuscous", is four letters, and "off-color" but not naughty.

  2. Annenonymous,

    You are on to something here: clang association--hearing one word in the sound of another and being influenced in our use and understanding of it. An example would be "dastardly" which has the clang of "bastard" in it.

    Perhaps the most notorious example of a clang association involved the word "niggardly" in the David Howard incident.

    From Wikipedia:

    Niggardly is a word synonymous with stingy and miserly, and a niggard (noun) is a miser. They are both derived from the Old Norse verb nigla, meaning "to fuss about small matters". (The English word "niggle" retains the original Norse meaning.)

    The word is not related to the word nigger, though someone unfamiliar with the word "niggardly" might take offense due to the phonetic similarity between the words. (The word "nigger" is from the earlier "neger," which is from French nègre, from Latin niger, meaning black.)

    On January 15, 1999, David Howard, a white aide to Anthony A. Williams, the black mayor of Washington, D.C., United States, used the word in reference to a budget. This apparently upset one of his black colleagues (identified by Howard as Marshall Brown), who incorrectly interpreted it as a racial slur and lodged a complaint. As a result, on January 25 Howard tendered his resignation, and Williams accepted it.[1]

    However, after pressure from the gay community (of which Howard was a member) and black leaders brought about an internal review into the matter, the mayor offered Howard the chance to return to his position as Office of the Public Advocate on February 4. Howard refused but accepted another position with the mayor instead, insisting that he did not feel victimized by the incident. On the contrary, Howard felt that he had learned from the situation. "I used to think it would be great if we could all be colorblind. That's naive, especially for a white person, because a white person can't afford to be colorblind. They don't have to think about race every day. An African American does." [1]

    The Howard incident led to a national debate in the U.S., in the context of racial sensitivity and political correctness, on whether use of the word niggardly should be avoided because of its potential association with the extremely pejorative racial slur nigger, despite the entirely separate and unrelated etymologies of the two words.
    --Wikipedia (12 Feb 07)

    If you believe some of the people you know or work with would hear an offensive "clang" in the word subfusc, I'd be careful using it. And, of course, I wouldn't expect you to use it if you hear a clang in it.

    --B'g J'n.

  3. Subfusc is such an attractive word both in sound and in letter arrangement to me, I might just use it in place of "gull diction" if a drab situation presents itself.

  4. Sister A.:

    "Gol" is a transparent substitution for the name of You-know-who. And "diction" simply means "words," "words I know but don't want to speak." "Gol diction," I aver, asks the Almighty to "damn something" or "damn someone," and uttering the words makes you vulnerable to the charge of using the Almighty's name in vain. Poor Dad, all those years of curses spoken in vain, and he didn't even know it! Best stay with "subfusc," a mere bit of curbstone English you picked up along the way.

    Bless you sister!