October 24, 2008


The Arrogator
A nonce term
coined by your editor

ar'ro-gate tr.v. — -gat-ed, -gat-ing, -gates.

» to usurp,
» to appropriate, assume, or claim (to oneself) unduly or without justification.
Mid 16th century. — Shorter OED 5th Ed.

» In use:
[President George W.] Bush has arrogated the power to imprison men without charges and browbeat Congress into granting an unfettered authority to spy on Americans. ("Barack Obama for President," Editorial, New York Times, 23 Oct. 2008.

» Cognates:ar'ro-ga'tion n. —ar'ro-ga'tive adj. —ar'ro-ga'tor n.

» Usage Note: arrogate and abrogate are sometimes confused.
Abrogate means to abolish (a law or custom) by authoritative or formal action; annul, repeal. Henry VIII abrogated Welsh customary law. Whereas arrogate, means, to usurp. You should not arrogate to yourself all of the credit for today's victory. (Wikipedia's "List of commonly misused English words" — http://en.wikipedia.org; and Dictionary of Modern American Usage, Brian A. Garner. New York: Oxford U. Press, 1998.)

» A memorization tip:

It takes willful arrogance to arrogate to oneself something that is properly not one's own [emphasis added]. Not surprisingly, both arrogance and arrogate derive from the same root, arrogat, the Latin stem of arrogare, to claim for oneself (Shorter OED 5th Ed.). — B.J.


September 9, 2008


The tough, white, fibrous
sclerotic coat covering the eyeball


Rigid, hard, unyielding,

In use:
In willingly taking up the two-edged sword of maverickism; in spelling out his frequent flights against the sclerotic, cosy two-party establishment; in zinging that “big-spending, do-nothing, me-first-country-second Washington crowd”; in the new media adulation of his smoothly delivered acceptance extravaganza, [Senator John\ McCain stiffly stole the clothes of change. — William Safire, “The Maverick Ticket,” New York Times, Sunday Opinion, Sept. 7, 2008.
Derivation: skleros, Greek = hard.

In the dictionaries:

adj. Unmoving, unchanging, rigid (Shorter OED 2002). Mid 20 C.

adj. Hard, firm, applied especially to the outer membrane of the eye-ball; pertaining to sclerosis.
noun. the outermost membrane of the eyeball (Chambers Etymological Dictionary, 1966.). Late Middle English.

[The term Sclera, with its line indicator,
appears in the drawing's upper left quadrant.]

"The Sclera is opaque and makes up 5 sixths of the outer layer of the
eyeball. It is visible between the eyelids as the white of the eye."


Most users of American English rarely see the word sclerotic, much less use it, as does William Safire so effectively above in his characterization of the "cozy two-party establishment" in Washington.

Why effective? Because the original medical sense of sclerotic denotes the hardness of the outermost layer of the eyeball. Thus with a word-wise wink, Safire, ever the word-meister, describes the modern American political party with the subtle yet apt metaphoric image of the human eyeball — tough, white-hued (pure?), slick, smooth, and ever-shifting (shifty?) as it peers upon the American political scene.

A Tangential Add-on:

Speaking of the eyeball as an image with potential entailments relative to the human condition, you are invited to click the tab below to read a short deferential piece devoted to America's preiminent eyeball: Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Transparent Eyeball" in his philosophical text Nature:

Standing on the bare ground,— my head
bathed by the blithe air, & uplifted into
infinite space,— all mean egotism
vanishes. I become a Transparent

"Transparent Eyeball"
by Christopher Pearse Cranch

"While not exactly an image of Emerson, the "transparent eyeball" based on Christopher Pearse Cranch’s caricature of a passage from Nature, is famously associated with him" (Ralph Waldo Emerson Society, cas.sc.edu/engl/emerson ).


July 20, 2008

snark v.

t. verb

to find fault with, to nag

At the end of the 19th century, the word
snark — as a verb (more about the noun form later) — carried two meanings, one of which was — and continues to be — to find fault with, to nag.

In her
New York Times OP-ED piece of July 20, 2008, "Ich Bin Ein Jet-Setter," Maureen Dowd makes apt use of snark to describe the tone of a comment posted by an aide to presidential hopeful John McCain on the blog called The Politico. The context concerned candidate Barack Obama's visit to Europe during the last week in July of 2008.

Dowd first describes the political environments in Europe and America:
Even if Obama is treated as a superstar by W.-weary Europeans, some Obama-wary Americans may wonder what he is doing there, when they can't pay for gas, when the dollar is the Euro's chew toy, when Bud[weiser] is going Belgian and when the Chrysler Building has Arab landlords.
Her next paragraph presents the snarky quotation from the ready-to-rile McCain aide:
I don't know that people in Missouri are going to like seeing tens of thousands Europeans screaming for The One," a McCain aide snarked to The Politico.

Snark in a second sense

t. verb

to snore or snort

Earlier in the Nineteenth Century, the Shorter OED tells us, people used snark as a transitive verb to mean snore or snort, no doubt because of its onomatopoetic effects.

noun, nonce

The word converts naturally into a nonce-noun:
I can't sleep! You're driving me nuts — what with that endless nasal droning you punctuate so punctiliously with all manner of gurgles and gaggs, snorts and snarks.—B.J.

The adjectival derivative you read above, snarky, first appeared in the early 20th century, as did a second adjectival form, snarkish, as well as the adverb snarkily and the noun snarkiness — all worthy of use in appropriate settings.

So there's lots of room for invention with the root
"Reginald, you, with your feigned sophistication, your words come scented in overtones snarkish, but the words of your roughneck bodyguard, Buck, they're stark snarky." (Why not add a rhyme?)

The most striking characteristic of conversation with any member of the Hightower family was its edge of keen
But the root word snark did not make its first appearance in English as a raspish verb: rather it arrived — with no little publicity — as a playful noun, more precisely as a "nonsense word invented by Lewis Carroll in The Hunting of the Snark (1876)."

Snark, as a noun, in the Carrollian sense, signifies a "fabulous animal. Also an elusive truth or goal." (Shorter OED).

Finally, here for the sheer nonsense of it, a couplet extempore:

Sir. Gallablab was a snark and windy knight,
His moods and words engendering sleep or fright.


January 14, 2008


The OED Online reports this on the word lacuna:
A la-cu'-na [luh-kyoo'nuh] is "a hiatus, or missing portion . . . in a manuscript, an inscription, or the text of an author." It is derived from lacuna, the Latin word for a hole or pit. The word admits two plural forms — lacunae [luh-kyoo',nay] or lacunas — as well as an adjectival form, lacunal.
» In use:

An Open Letter to Words Worth Readers
Jan. 14, 2008

Dear Words Worth readers:

First off, know this, that my love of researching words that I find in some way fetching and then putting them into play in conversation and personal correspondence has not changed one jot, tittle, mote, or bit.

What has changed is the arrival to these quarters of certain disruptive matters, which I choose here to call Imposing Necessities (INs). They are of such a thorn-prickly nature that I must needs tend to them and put off further publication of Words Worth until some unpredictable time in the future.

I view this production stoppage not as a termination, but as a lacuna — a pause or hiatus — in the blog's production, with the prospect ever in my mind of resuming production when the INs are out!

So it's silence from the quarters of Words Worth for the nonce, but not forever.

Until we are reconnected, you could visit other word sites to slake your thirst for new words or try incorporating the word discovery method I have outlined below.

Place a dictionary on your bedside table. Each morning at wake-up, open the book, run your index finger down a column until you find a word that catches your interest — as, for an example, the word beauteous, which a poetic or literary rendition of beautiful.

Speak out the word, write out its spelling and definition in a special pocket spiral notebook devoted to word learning. Then imagine a time or place during the upcoming day when the word could come into play. Picture an object or a person whose name begins with the word's initial letter — here, b — and make some sort of connection. Use your imagination to do this.

If, for instance, you think you will most probably see coworker Betty during the day, think at that moment: "B — Betty — beauteous." Then, when you see her, you might say, "Beauteous hair, today, Betty!"

If you see Betty that day but forget to make the connection or forget the word beauteous, try again the next day. This time you might picture her wearing a button on her lapel that reads: "Beauteous Betty."

Have fun learning new words.

Until Words Worth resumes publication, I wish you all the best.

Bloggin' John