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" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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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