June 16, 2007


eschew v. [es-cheuw']

To avoid, shun
To avoid, keep clear of, escape (a danger or inconvenience)

OED Online.
eschew tr.v.
eschewed, eschewing, eschews.

To avoid; shun.
The American Heritage Dictionary
Eschew IN USE:
Illustration by Matthew Feyld

From “A Head Case”
A personal essay by Michael J. Nelson

Ive had a headache for 20 years. Not headaches, but one continuous headache, 20 years running . . . .
So I gave up on medications eschewing even aspirin for 10 years. But then I heard about a novel kind of treatment that involves having Novocain injected into the head, the theory being that if you could somehow get your muscles to “remember” what it was like not to feel pain, they’d return to their normal state.
I was dubious.

Michael J. Nelson. “A Head Case.”
True-Life Tales. The New York Times Magazine, June 10, 2007.

GEOFFREY CHAUCERThe ferme stablenesse of pedurable dwellynge and ek the eschuynge of destruccyoun.
c1374 Boehius III. xi. 9
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE—What cannot be eschew'd, must be embrac'd.
. Merry Wives of Windsor,V. v. 251
SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE—These eschewers of mystery.
1825 Aids Refl. (1848) I. 188
We’ve Cable news in
Abundance to view—Bill
O’Reilly, too, to eschew!
2007, "Word's Worth" (BlogginJohn.blogspot.com)

Eschew appeared in English circa 1340. From 900-1400 its predecessor, eschiver, was part of Old French, and prior to that, from 900-1400 in the form of skiuhan, it was a part Frankish, the language spoken by the people then living in Gaul. All along this French-into-English pathway, eschew has meant “dread, avoid, shun.”— Based on "eschew" Douglas Harper. Online Etymology Dictionary, 2001. (www.etymonline.com) (15, June, 2007).

From The American Heritage Dictionary:

These verbs mean to get or stay away from persons or things: eschew, escape, avoid, shun, evade, elude.
  • Eschew involves staying clear of something because to do otherwise would be unwise or morally wrong: “Eschew evil, and do good” (Book of Common Prayer).
  • Escape can mean to get free, as from confinement, or to remain untouched or unaffected by something unwanted: “Let no guilty man escape, if it can be avoided” (Ulysses S. Grant). “It is curious . . . what shifts we make to escape thinking” (James Russell Lowell).
  • Avoid always involves an effort to keep away from what is considered to be a source of danger or difficulty: avoiding strenuous exercise; avoided committing herself.
  • Shun refers to deliberately keeping clear of what is unwelcome or undesirable: “Family friends . . . she shunned like the plague” (John Galsworthy).
  • Evade implies adroit maneuvering and sometimes implies dishonesty or irresponsibility: evading capture; tried to evade jury duty. To elude is to get away from artfully: elude a blow; eluded his pursuers.

Let's use a conceptual metaphor, THE CONTAINER IS BAD, to discuss these five synonyms in closer detail.

A conceptual metaphor makes a comparative statement by overlapping two ideas, or conceptual domains of experience. In the instance of THE CONTAINER IS BAD,
the idea "that which can contain a person: an idea, a movement, a place, a person" is mapped upon the idea of "my well-being or status."

Conceptual metaphors appear in our daily word choices. Reflecting THE CONTAINER IS BAD metaphor, we say
  • She feels trapped in her past.
  • I'll never buy an Oldsmobile convertible again!
  • Most neocons are locked inside their ideology.
  • Rosie appeared happy after coming out of the closet.
  • I need to let off some steam!
  • I feel safe in your arms.
  • Home sweet home.
  • Democracy: land of the free.
  • She glides in an bright cloud of joy.
  • I'll be there, incognito
Below, eschew and its synonyms escape, avoid, shun, evade, and elude are given consideration in terms of THE CONTAINER METAPHOR. As we shall see the operative metaphor will be THE CONTAINER IS BAD.
  • Eschew. THE CONTAINER IS BAD: Don't get involved! “Eschew evil, and do good!"
  • Escape. THE CONTAINER IS BAD: Get out of it! "Don't get trapped, inside a trap, inside a trap."
  • Avoid. THE CONTAINER IS BAD: to put distance between oneself and danger. Don't commit yourself.
  • Shun. THE CONTAINER IS BAD. Avoid going to the Speak Easy Bar like the plague!
  • Evade. THE CONTAINER IS BAD. But there's more. THE ESCAPE ROUTE FROM THE ORIGINAL CONTAINER IS ANOTHER CONTAINER—and THE ESCAPE CONTAINER IS BAD: it is strewn with obstacles and temptations. One must avoid the obstacles as adroitly as is possible, and one must not let the temptations lure one into unethical behavior.
Now, what has all of this experimentation with the container metaphor taught us?

It has shown us that of the five synonyms The American Heritage Dictionary has presented to us—eschew, escape, avoid, shun, and evade—only two of them by definition suggest ethical challenges.
  • To evade something, we may, at times, be tempted to act unethically.
  • And if we choose not to eschew certain containers—such as organized crime or a corrupted White House—we may be tempted into misdeeds—such as "kill or get killed" or "keep your mouth shut, go to jail, and we'll spring you, making you look like a patriot to boot!
The container metaphor also taught us, in passing, that by definition only one of the five synonyms posits the possibilities of skill, style, "adroit maneuvering," "elud[ing]" something "artfully," and even panache—and that word is evade.

If you are saying to yourself, "That's all well and good—going into eschew and five of its synonyms in some depth—but what if I'm in the middle of a piece of writing and none of the five you mentioned here fits the context I've created, in terms of syntax, tone, compatability with a nearby figure of speech, rhythm, or even sound? What then?"

Visit a thesaurus, such as the one from Oxford University Press that was packaged in my Macintosh PowerBook:

Synonyms for eschew:
refrain from, give up, forgo, shun, renounce, steer clear of, have nothing to do with, fight shy of; relinquish, reject, disavow, abandon, spurn, wash one's hands of, drop; informal kick, pack in; formal forswear, abjure.
—Oxford American Dictionaries, Dictionary and Thesaurus.
Dictionary Version 1.0.1 (1.0.1) 2005 Apple Computer, Inc.

THE CATCHPHRASE: "Eschew Obfuscation"

First of all, let's clear up any obscurity (read obfuscation) about the meaning of obfuscation. The OED defines obfuscation as "
concealment or obscuration of a concept, idea, expression."

Now, with each word of the catchphrase "Eschew Obfuscation" singly and sufficiently (I hope) defined, we might ask, "What—in clear, simple English—does the combination of the two words 'Eschew Obfuscation' mean?" It means, simply and precisely, to speak and write (Do I hear an echo?) in clear, simple English."

If you want to learn more about the catch phrase "Eschew Obfuscation"—which a few years ago ranked popular as a bumper sticker—you can go its eponymous website (address: [beclear.blogspot.com]), which is subtitled,

Where Progressive Thinking Meets Pattern Recognition,

and read the following:

Eschew obfuscation, also stated as: "eschew obfuscation", espouse elucidation", is a common humorous saying of English teachers and professors when lecturing about proper writing techniques.

Literally, the meaning is "avoid ambiguity, adopt clarity", but the use of extremely uncommon words in the English language itself causes confusion, making the phrase a prime example of irony.
ord's Worth has
been unable, as of this date, to identify the person who coined the phrase "Eschew obfuscation." But we are determined to make that determination, someday soon, we hope.

We have investigated
—without success—the following known pensters in the game of coinage:
  • Red E. Redpen, Professor Emeritus of Neighborhood and Back-lot Linguistics at Pierian Hills College;
  • Lynn Gwist, Chair of the Priscian Precision Committee at the National Council of Teachers of Correct English;
  • Newsome Koiner, teacher of Standard and Argot English at The Euterpe and Calliope School of Advertising, Stand-Up Comedy, and Epic Screen Writing; and
  • Trixie Verbah-Hookum, Director of Subliminal and Overt Advertising at The Plentipage Warehouse of Alternative Textbooks and Widget User's Manuals.
Readers of Word's Worth should know with confidence that we will continue our quest for the catch-phrase coiner.



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