14.0602 teleprompto, or I am curious livid

From: by way of Willard McCarty (willard@lists.village.Virginia.EDU)
Date: Fri Jan 19 2001 - 16:45:15 EST

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 602.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

             Date: Thu, 18 Jan 2001 06:55:21 +0000
             From: "Jim Marchand" <marchand@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu>
             Subject: Re: 14.0595 teleprompto

    In a recent message to HUMANIST on telepromptos, I took the
    position that _livid_ in the meaning of `quite angry' is recent and
    an example of a common type of error. Three people were kind
    enough to write me privately and to point out that I was wrong. I
    certainly was wrong on the `recent'; the OED offers 1912 as the
    first example of _livid_ in that meaning. In reality, the `error'
    goes even further back, since Latin offers _lividus_ in much the
    same meaning. The next problem is: Is this an error? What
    constitutes an error (in diction?); how long does an error have to
    exist before it becomes proper usage? To get back to _livid_, not
    to attract an argumentum ad exemplum, it ought to mean, not
    `purple' (with rage), but `lead-colored, lead-hued', though quite
    early it took on the meaning of `the color of a bruise', Latin
    _varius_ `black and blue (from a beating)' having moved on to other
    areas. Second problem, if _livid_ comes to mean `angry', as most
    people seem to think it does (I conducted an informal survey of 7
    or 8 people, all of whom thought it meant only that), what do we do
    for a word for `lead-colored'? `Lead colored'? If _broadcast_ comes
    to mean only `to disseminate by means of radio, etc.', where do we
    go for a word for _broadcast_ `to cast seed'?

    Back to the problem of error; shall we agree with Bob Hall and
    Leave Our Language Alone? How long shall we have to have people like
    broadcasters, governors, presidents say `between you and I' before it
    becomes acceptable, then de rigeur? If a Supreme Court justice uses
    _fortuitous_ in the meaning of _fortunate_, is that
    not enough to change the meaning of the word? Who are the arbiters of usage?
    The Howard Cosell's of this world? The members of the French Academy
    (accused of failing to make agreement between the past participle and the
    object of words conjugated with avoir)?

    This may all seem to be rather frivolous and like Freshman Comp.,
    but there is some importance attached to the clothing of thought
    into words, as Karl Kraus preached over and over. It is not just
    the mise en page which conditions our thinking about the matter
    presented, it is the style, the diction, the necessary precision
    (and the necessary imprecision) of the statement, the avoidance of
    the picture when it is not worth a thousand words, the avoidance of
    yes/no logic when only multivalued will do, etc. etc.

    When I think of how badly people use our fine language, I am purple.

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