Hello and welcome! This is the Pompous Ass Words site, a place dedicated to identifying words that shouldn't be used on the grounds that doing so makes you sound like a pompous ass. It was partly inspired by the American Heritage College Dictionary's list of "100 Words Every High School Graduate and Their Parents Should Know." When I first saw it I thought, there have to be at least 100 words everyone should know about and never use. So I figured hey, let's start putting that list together.
Also on this site is a fabulous variety of commentary and unique items, including what I believe may be the world's first and only self-referencing hyperlink. So without further ado let's get started.
What is a Pompous Ass Word?
A Pompous Ass Word (PAW) is an uncommonly understood word that is synonymous with a commonly understood one. For example, tendentious is a PAW because it could be substituted with biasedwith no loss of meaning. On the other hand, ersatz isn't because it isn't synonymous with imitation - it implies a lesser quality as well. And while annoying words (proactive), logically incorrect words (irregardless) and trendy words (blog) are all worthy of censure, they aren't PAWs and so aren't eligible for the list. Finally, we all know every rule has its exception.
It also helps if the word is used in some prominent place. If it shows up in the New York Times or a popular novel that's better than a reference to your cousin's term paper. I prefer PAWs that get dropped in wide circulation for the whole world to see, though it's not necessary. Starting with "inchoate" I've added an "M-W says" line to include a link to the Merriam-Webster entry and its first definition as a reference.
I feel helpless! I know of a PAW but don't know what to do!
That's why I'm here, my friend. Send me an email to paw (at) pompousasswords dot com and let me know (mail may be quoted by name unless you say otherwise). I also have a StumbleUpon pagesince I've had lots of traffic from there. See the "My Blog" section for short posts during the week and feedback from email. (The reviews have been fabulous too.) My goal is to get to 100 PAWs and I'll need your help to do it. If you want to defend a word on the list please have a look at the why it's a PAW page to make sure you aren't recycling an argument I'm not persuaded by.
The list (in order of appearance)
Synonymous with: Sensational or dramatic.
M-W says: Guignol, it turns out, isn't in the free Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, where you just searched. However, it is available in our premium Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary. To see that definition in the Unabridged Dictionary, start your FREE trial now.
Dictionary.com says: an entertainment with sensational or horrifying dramatic intent; also called Grand Guignol
Example: Sady Doyle at http://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2010/08/mad-mens-very-modern-sexism-problem/60788/:
Of course the 1960s were sexist. But something about the show's Grand Guignol presentation of discrimination and contempt for women makes it feel unfamiliar: Our own lives, after all, are nowhere near this dramatic.
Sent by James Cornelius.
Synonymous with: old fashioned, antiquated or primitive
M-W says: 1 : of or relating to the period before the flood described in the Bible. 2 a : made, evolved, or developed a long time ago...b : extremely primitive or outmoded
Example: Gene Lyons at http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2010/07/14/lyons_washington_post_columnist/index.html:
I've always adhered to the quaint view that journalists should avoid disseminating false information, particularly on the opinion pages. An argument that can't be won without cheating should properly be lost.
Contemporary political journalism, alas, has very little to do with such antediluvian values.
Synonymous with: Nothing precisely, but come on. Fatherly or grandfatherly would probably work in most cases. This is one of those words (like "prelapsarian" below) that doesn't have a precise synonym but can be easily written around in an accessible way.
M-W says: 1 : of or relating to an uncle. 2 : suggestive of an uncle especially in kindliness or geniality
Example: Bob Mondello at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128007714:
Cuba's Raul Castro adopts a modest avuncular tone, pleasantly deflecting Stone's description of Cuba as the fount of leftism in Latin America and asserting that other nations are simply finding their own identity.
Synonymous with: changing or variable
M-W says: 1 : of or resembling Proteus in having a varied nature or ability to assume different forms. 2 : displaying great diversity or variety : versatile
Example: Jeffrey Wasserstrom at http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,1994133,00.html:
The Chinese protest surge that ended in bloodshed exactly 21 years ago today near central Beijing's Tiananmen Square continues to exert a powerful hold on Western thinking about China. The very term "Tiananmen" has taken on a powerful and protean life of its own in the realm of political analogy: Last July, for example, commentators wondered whether Tehran had experienced a "Tiananmen" moment when post-election protests erupted into violence in the Iranian capital, and the specter of a "Thai Tiananmen" was raised this year when thousands of anti-government protestors clashed with the military in central Bangkok. In spite of this notoriety and the fact that major events in the original Tiananmen played out on television screens around the world, much has been forgotten — and misremembered — about the demonstrations that took place in April and May of that year and the brutal crackdown that culminated in the June 4th massacre.
Synonymous with: balance or equilibrium
M-W says: 1 : a state of equilibrium ; 2 : counterbalance
Example: David Brooks at http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/05/05/the-calm-cool-and-collected-president/?hp:
Sometimes people fault Obama for being too cool. I can see their point 5 percent of the time, but 95 percent of the time, it's good to have a president with equipoise.
Synonymous with: excess
M-W says: 1 : an overabundant supply : excess
Example: Bill Gross at http://www.pimco.com/LeftNav/Featured+Market+Commentary/IO/2010/Lovin+Spoonful+-+May+2010+IO.htm:
There's a surfeit of instructionals on the secret to investing, ranging from Investing for Dummies to The Intelligent Investor.
Synonymous with: weaken
M-W says: 1 : reduced especially in thickness, density, or force. 2 : tapering gradually usually to a long slender point
Example: Marc Ambinder at http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/04/four-cheers-for-the-washington-post/38811/:
I've got no stake in the matter, but four cheers to the Washington Post for winning four Pulitzer Prizes. It's a needed shot in the arm for a publication that has lost considerable respect inside the Beltway over the past several years, as top correspondents have fled to other papers and as the editorial brain-trust allowed the paper's influential status as Washington's pace-setter toattenuate.
Synonymous with: Deception (or sleight of hand).
M-W says: 1 : sleight of hand. 2 : a display of skill or adroitness
Example: Michael Barone's headline at http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/politics/When-legerdemain-is-used-to-pass-an-unpopular-bill-8675305-79940422.html:
When legerdemain is used to pass an unpopular bill
He uses it again in the article, just in case you thought he was done in by a headline writer.
Synonymous with: unruly
M-W says: 1 : marked by unruly or aggressive noisiness : clamorous
. 2 : stubbornly resistant to control : unruly
Example: Chicago Tribune editorial board at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/editorials/ct-edit-pelosi-20100304,0,4493358.story:
The Rangel affair should have been a moment for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to show she won't tolerate unethical behavior in Washington. She should have been leading the parade to make Rangel step aside at Ways and Means. But she didn't lead; she was led.
She defended Rangel, even as he grew more obstreperous, even as he blamed his staff - and the ethics committee - for his troubles.
Synonymous with: perception
M-W says: perception
Example: Martin Rees at http://timesonline.typepad.com/science/2010/01/how-is-the-internet-changing-the-way-you-think.html:
Srinivasa Ramanujan, a clerk in Bombay, mailed long screeds of of mathematical formulae to G H Hardy, a professor at Trinity College, Cambridge. Fortunately, Hardy had the percipienceto recognise that Ramanujan was not the typical green-ink scribbler who finds numerical patterns in the bible or the pyramids, but that his writings betrayed preternatural insight.
Synonymous with: dispute or fight
M-W says: 1 : an inopportune or embarrassing occurrence or situation. 2 : dispute, argument
Example: Ruth Sunderland at http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/jan/17/google-china-hacking-censorship:
Underlying the issues of hacking and censorship is unease over the inexorable increase in China's business clout and whether its ambition to become an economic superpower is compatible with its political system.
In the past few weeks alone there has been a string of contretemps with the west, including the execution of Briton Akmail Shaikh, the imprisonment of dissident Liu Xiaobo and ill-feeling over China's behaviour at the Copenhagen climate change summit, where it appeared to snub Barack Obama.
Synonymous with: quiet or inactive
M-W says: marked by inactivity or repose : tranquilly at rest
Example: Jerry Jordan at http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2009/10/28/business/econwatch/entry5439301.shtml:
Historically, commodity prices have remained quiescent during the initial period of an economic upturn.
Synonymous with: ineffective
M-W says: 1 : weak, ineffective. 2 : worthless, irresponsible
Example: Gene Lyons at http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2009/10/15/fox_news/:
As feckless and cowardly as the so-called “mainstream” media have grown in the face of conservative propaganda about “liberal media bias,” this strikes me as very good news.
Synonymous with: nonsense
M-W says: 1 : a useless ornament or accessory : trifle. 2 : nonsense
Example: Bill Wyman at http://www.salon.com/ent/feature/2009/02/19/roman_polanski_documentary/print.html:
Polanski, who had pleaded guilty to having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl, was welcome to return to America, surrender, and then petition the court as he wished. Indeed, the judge even gave Polanski more than he deserved, saying that he might actually have a case. "There was substantial, it seems to me, misconduct during the pendency of this case," he said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "Other than that, he just needs to submit to the jurisdiction of the court." Polanski deserves to have any potential legal folderol investigated, of course.
The first definition can be used well, though, like this from Tom Shales at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/09/AR2009090903587_pf.html:
A joint session, after all, means lots of padding for pomp, circumstance and folderol, like the 16 minutes it took for Obama -- preceded by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton almost dancing her way down the aisle -- just to get to the lectern in the House of Representatives chamber.
So maybe it's only half a PAW.
Synonymous with: immoral
M-W says: 1 : of, relating to, or affected with scrofula. 2 a : having a diseased run-down appearance b : morally contaminated
Example: Andrew Sullivan at http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2009/09/one-small-moment-of-actual-dissent.html:
Fox's agenda has always been to suppress actual conservative dissent, and to reiterate the GOP talking points of the day against Potemkin "liberals" who, when they don't seem positivelyscrofulous, tend to look like beauty queens.
Synonymous with: obstinate
M-W says: 1 a : adhering resolutely to an opinion, purpose, or design b : perversely persistent. 2 : stubbornly tenacious
Example: Yoani Sanchez: at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/yoani-sanchez/raised-at-fidels-knees-a_b_278481.html:
The person who all this happened to was, in turn, an amusing hedonist, born conversationalist, tolerant, pertinacious and the worst guerrilla one could imagine.
Synonymous with: now
M-W says: 1 : the one, particular, or present occasion, purpose, or use
Example: Megan McArdle at http://meganmcardle.theatlantic.com/archives/2009/09/ant-abortion_protester_shot_an.php:
An anti-abortion activist has been shot and killed in Michigan. It seems to be linked to another homicide in the area, so this seems more like a lone lunatic than a political killing, at least for thenonce.
Synonymous with: feverish
M-W says: marked or caused by fever : feverish
Example: Kevin Drum at http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2009/08/afpak-dominos:
Nothing is impossible, but at its core this is just a sophisticated version of the same domino theory that dominated U.S. thinking in Southeast Asia in the 50s and 60s. That led us into a disastrous war then, and it could do the same now if the Obama administration starts getting too wrapped up in febrile thinking like this.
Synonymous with: mixture or hodgepodge
M-W says: a mixture often of incongruous elements
Example: Rich Ernst sent in this Publishers Weekly review of The Cloudspotter's Guide: The Science, History, and Culture of Clouds (Paperback) at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0399533451?tag=fw-book-su-20:
The result is an amusing and remarkably informative jaunt through the heavenly vapors that draws on classical poetry, physics, geekery and pop culture. Despite this improbable mélange, Pretor-Pinney succeeds in fleshing out subtleties and making difficult concepts like convection, advection, condensation and atmospheric optics comprehensible to almost any reader.
Synonymous with: chaotic, disappointing or irregular
M-W says: 1 : marked by lack of definite plan, regularity, or purpose...2 : not connected with the main subject 3 : disappointing in progress, performance, or quality
Example: Steve Fainaru at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/13/AR2009051303813.html:
Zimmerman singled in his first two at-bats Tuesday as the Nationals settled into what initially appeared to be another desultory evening.
Synonymous with: dull or tedious
M-W says: lacking liveliness, tang, briskness, or force : flat, dull
Example: Andy McCarthy at http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=NjFkMDM5NWMzODJhNGI3NjdlOGE0NjQ0Yjg0ZjZmMzg=:
With due respect to Gen. Petraeus, this is just vapid.
Synonymous with: persistent, thorough or industrious
M-W says: marked by careful unremitting attention or persistent application
Example: Stanley Bing at http://money.cnn.com/2009/06/03/magazines/fortune/stress_test_bing.fortune/?postversion=2009060410:
Each and every individual there has to fulfill his or her part of the loan-approval process in such a way that nobody will say to them one day, "Why did you approve this deadbeat?" They solve this problem by becoming assiduous.
Synonymous with: idolatry
M-W says: hagiolatry can be found at Merriam-WebsterUnabridged.com. Click here to start your free trial!
dictionary.com says: the worship of saints.
Example: David Edwards and David Cromwell in the book GUARDIANS OF POWER, excerpted at http://www.medialens.org/bookshop/extract_of_chapter_11.php:
The companion to media demonisation of the 'bad guys' is the hagiolatry of Western leaders and apologetics for their crimes.
Evelyn Callahan sent it in and adds: "Meaning, the worship of saints, from Greek hágios 'holy'. I can't think of an exact synonym, but surely something along the lines of 'idolization' or 'deification' or 'glorification' gets the point across without making you sound like a pompous ass." One caveat, though - I think "hagiography" belongs in any well developed vocabulary, and if you know the definition of that you can probably infer hagiolatry. Having said that, use "deification" instead!
Synonymous with: a childless woman
M-W says: nullipara can be found at Merriam-WebsterUnabridged.com. Click here to start your free trial!
dictionary.com says: a woman who has never borne a child.
Example: Kate Harding at http://www.salon.com/mwt/broadsheet/2009/01/12/breastfeeding_101/index.html:
As a nullipara, I have no personal stake in questions of whether breast really is best, how long one should breast-feed, whether it's appropriate to do so in public, etc.
The adjective childless can easily substitute for the noun nullipara. In the example above, replace "Being childless" with "As a nullipara" and it works just fine.
Synonymous with: greed
M-W says: 1: inordinate desire for wealth: avarice, greed 2: strong desire: lust
Example: Gene Weingarten at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/04/AR2007040401721.html:
Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation, aware of your cupidity but annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet?
Synonymous with: omit
M-W says: 1 a: to suppress or alter (as a vowel or syllable) by elision b: to strike out (as a written word). 2 a: to leave out of consideration : omit b: curtail , abridge
Example: Terrence Rafferty at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/07/movies/07raff.html:
This is odd but somehow not surprising, because movies about revolutions do tend to give pride of place to the fighting and to elide the duller, often grimmer business of actually governing in a revolutionary way.
Synonymous with: opposite
1: of or relating to the antipodes ; specifically : situated at the opposite side of the earth or moon
2: diametrically opposite
Example: Publishers Weekly at http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6619813.html?industryid=47159:
Alison, a plucky, boyish, observant child, set out to win Paul's admiration by her accomplishments, and when she finally saw her biological father again in 1973, it became clear that Alison and her antipodal sister, Jenny, were each harboring the "mass of fantasy, jealousy, and longing that was crucial and would define us."
Lots of uses as a synonym for Australian, which is not pompous so much as precious.
Synonymous with: trivial
M-W says: of little or no consequence
Example: Theodore Dalrymple at http://www.newenglishreview.org/custpage.cfm/frm/13921/sec_id/13921:
As we have seen, the bravery of the assassins does not count as a virtue, and any minor virtues that they might have had - that they were good to their mothers, for example, or that they were considerate brothers - are nugatory by comparison with the evil they have wrought.
For some reason it also makes me think of Willy Wonka. Sent in by Evelyn Callahan, who on another matter writes: "Per se may not be a PAW per se, but its widespread misuse as some kind of softening qualifier is annoying and wrong. It's a favorite of pretentious teenagers (a recent episode of South Park poked fun at this) but even otherwise literate and intelligent people often get it incorrect. I misused it for years before learning, with considerable embarrassment, of its actual definition. Blame the lack of compulsory Latin education, I guess."
Synonymous with: kinship or proximity
M-W says: 1 : nearness of blood : kinship. 2 : nearness in place or time : proximity
Example: Christopher Hitchens at http://www.slate.com/id/2201130/:
On last Thursday's CBS Evening News, facing the mild-as-milk questioning of Katie Couric, the thriller from Wasilla should have been relieved when the topics stopped being about the Bush doctrine or the thorny matter of Russian-Alaskan propinquity and could be refocused instead on Sen. Barack Obama's weakness.
Sent in by asbestos (the pseudonym, not the hazardous material).
Synonymous with: rainy
M-W says: pluvious can be found at Merriam-WebsterUnabridged.com. Click here to start your free trial!
Dictionary.com says: of or pertaining to rain; rainy.
Example: Zalmoxsis sent in the following:
The word is 'pluvious'. which is to say that it was raining (both cats and dogs), sodden, soaked, drenched, awash, dripping, and even pouring; in other words, very wet.
I was doing a little research to find out who wrote and sang the song 'Brazil' (as in the movie, and the VISA commercial), and happened on Wikipedia's entry:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aquarela_do_Brasil:
"Aquarela do Brasil" ("Watercolor of Brazil"), also known in English-speaking countries simply as "Brazil", is one of the most popular Brazilian songs of all time, written by Ary Barroso on a pluvious night in 1939.Even though I am a staunch defender of the writer's right to creative use and abuse of language -- at the risk of being tagged as a Pompous Ass myself -- I find this one very hard to accept. Wikipedia, one imagines, ought to be pretty utilitarian in its use of language; its purpose is to serve readers with information.
Fortunately, my half-remembered French and Latin told me that 'pluvious' had something to do with rain, so I wasn't completely in the dark; but it seems to me that a writer may not assume readers to understand any language other than that in which they are supposed to be writing. Foreign words ought to be used sparingly: either when no other word or phrase comes close to their meaning, or when the foreign word has been adopted into English, or is at least familiar to most intelligent general readers.
Zalmoxsis has sent in multiple examples and been a regular correspondent. I started the PAW site before blogging software existed in its present form, but if I had the ability to easily add contributors Zalmoxsis would be one. So would clemencedane. They both get it.
A side note, since I just mentioned blogging. When I railed against "trendy words (blog)" at the top I was referring to the then-current practice of people starting what amounted to public diaries and dumping into them whatever indulgent crap popped into the writers' heads ("and then for lunch I had..."). Since then new features like multiple authors, RSS feeds, comments and a few other content management/publishing features have made the concept of a blog something (potentially) distinctive and useful. In that sense it is no longer trendy. (One of the reasons I've kept my name off the site is the ego-mortifying belief that the Internet did not need another Web page all about - me!)
Synonymous with: gap or deficiency
M-W says: 1: a blank space or a missing part : gap
; also : deficiency 1
Example: Joel Snyder at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/06/AR2008080602148.html:
This lack of full integration leaves some astonishing gaps in IPS-1 management. If you want to generate a report summarizing data out of IPS-1, it's your responsibility to set up your own reporting tool, such as Crystal Reports, to work against the built-in database, or send events to an external database for full control of archiving and retention. Another critical lacuna is the lack of shared objects between firewall and IPS policies.
Sent in by Jeff Fisher (who also sent in sesquipedalian).
Synonymous with: eloquent
M-W says: The word you've entered isn't in the dictionary. (Super bonus awesome PAW points!)
Example: Arieh Smith sends the following from http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2005/jul/16/classics.dantealighieri and adds
The word is also used in what may be the most pompous paragraph I have ever read (published by a major newspaper):The Divine Comedy, says Mandelstam, "in its most densely foliated aspect is oriented toward authority, it is most densely rustling, most concertante just when it is caressed by dogma, by canon, by the firm chrysostomatic word. But the whole trouble is that in authority - or, to put it more precisely, in authoritarianism - we see only insurance against error, and we fail to perceive anything in that grandiose music of trustfulness, of trust, in the nuances - delicate as an alpine rainbow - of probability and conviction, which Dante has at his command."The syntax and absurdly ridiculous vocabulary make this paragraph barely intelligible.
Also, "Alpine Rainbow" sounds like a heavy metal band. Or the organization name for gay marmots.
Synonymous with: powerful
M-W says: powerful
Clinging to one another like leeches, Federer and the puissant lefty, 22-year-old Nadal, traveled the longest of Wimbledon finals over so many bumps that the audience was limp with suspense.
I am, however, granting a dispensation for the Manual of Puissant Skill at Arms.
Synonymous with: secretary
M-W says: one employed to write from dictation or to copy manuscript
Example: From http://www.nysun.com/arts/got-to-paint-the-lewitts/80896/:
The artists begin with blank walls and, under close guidance from members of the LeWitt atelier, the paints or pencil marks are applied with strict precision, according to typed instructions left by the artist. While the directions are specific, they sometimes allow for some marginal discretion by the amanuensis.
Clemencedane and I had an extended correspondence on this one. She writes that my example is "the more specialized definition. Usually it just means someone who takes dictation. But in that meaning they are more like an interpreter of written instructions. But it is still used as a fancy word for secretary in some contexts." I looked around a little and here is the only example I found where the "interpreter" definition is used - http://www.abu.nb.ca/courses/NTIntro/2Pet.htm:
Jerome explains the literary differences between 1 & 2 Peter by postulating Peter's use of a different "interpreter" (interpres) or what we would now call amanuenses, for each letter (Ep. Hedib. 120 Quaest. 11).
The other examples I found make a distinction between interpreter and transcriber. I think of transcribing as more or less automatic repeating of exactly what you see/hear and associate it within a language, while interpretation is across it. Under those circumstances the example reflects at best an extremely rare and archaic use of the word. As always your feedback is welcome1. Zalmoxsis had the gall to take me up on my offer and his thoughts are here.
Synonymous with: workshop
M-W says: 1 : an artist's or designer's studio or workroom
Example: See previous entry.
Synonymous with: miserly
M-W says: grudgingly mean about spending or granting
Example: The infamous David Howard incident:
David Howard, a top aide to D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, resigned last month after being criticized for saying the word "niggardly" during a meeting with two city employees. Howard's resignation, and Williams's decision to accept it, raised questions about whether the mayor acted too hastily and fueled discussions across the nation about appropriate word usage. A look at the key dates in the Howard situation:
Jan. 15 : In a discussion of how little money his office would have to serve residents, Howard, the head of the mayor's constituent services office, tells two associates that he'll have to be "niggardly" with his agency's budget. Niggardly, meaning miserly, has no racial connotation, but soon rumors begin spreading among some city workers that Howard had used the "N-word."
I first saw this as a candidate for the list in relation to a scathing review of my site (see the "Reviews" section for the link). I didn't especially want to publicize such a negative critique but I feel somewhat obligated now. You see, once I added it people started going to it, and it became popular in its own right on Stumble Upon - so much so that people started stumbling upon it independently in large numbers. Since it links to my site he has unknowingly driven thousands of people here and I certainly appreciate the extra traffic. Consider this my "thank you" to him. As an added humor bonus, the review in question is over a year and a half old and well off his front page. As far as I know he is completely unaware of the newfound popularity of his site; someone will probably alert him now but as of mid-July 2008 the most recent item on the site is a thoroughly misanthropic diatribe concerning the current Playboy Playmate of the Year. From May.
As for the niggardly controversy, I don't have much sympathy for Mr. Howard. Yes he used the word properly in context but it strikes me as disingenuous to act surprised when as a white man he uses a word around African Americans with such a strong resemblance to "nigger". People might not pause and go to the reference section in the middle of a city budget meeting if they hear a new word - they might just go with what they think they heard. Considering how easily it could be confused with such an explosive epithet I think it's reasonable to expect your average person's racial tripwire to trigger and say "hey, maybe I should think of another word lest what I say be confused with the n-word!" He shouldn't have lost his job over it nor should he have been censured but I don't think the proper response is some kind of haughty-but-defensive "well I'm sorry I have such a big vocabulary" attitude. Under the circumstances his usage of the word indicates a somewhat stunted set of social skills. (This incident was also brought to my attention this week when zalmoxsis pointed me to this.)
Synonymous with: rationalization
M-W says: 1 : a resolving of specific cases of conscience, duty, or conduct through interpretation of ethical principles or religious doctrine 2 : specious argument : rationalization
Example: Aeirlys writes:
I have a PAW for you: casuistry. I can't find it online, but I came across it in Jon Krakauer's Under The Banner Of Heaven. (Krakauer, BTW, should be on your next list - Pompous Ass Authors.)
"When this casuistry came to light, it unleashed a nationwide howl of indignation." (Krakauer, Jon. Under The Banner of Heaven. New York: Anchor, 2003.) The word means rationalization. There's just no excuse for that; it's plain egregious. (You can verify, if you want, by using the "Search Inside" feature at Amazon, which won't let me link directly to the page:http://www.amazon.com/Under-Banner-Heaven-Story-Violent/dp/1400032806/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1215480459&sr=8-1)
I poked around a little and the only definition I found used was the second one. The first may be used in more formal contexts but for everyday use that doesn't seem to be the case.
Synonymous with: polysyllabic
M-W says: having many syllables
With his usual sesquipedalian flair, George Will today takes us on a tour of history, demonstrating the dangers of falling in love with our presidents and assigning too much importance to their position as cultural and societal icons.
Sent in by Jeff Fisher.
Synonymous with: incomplete or partial
M-W says: being only partly in existence or operation : incipient; especially : imperfectly formed or formulated : formless, incoherent
Example: Ross Douthat at http://rossdouthat.theatlantic.com/archives/2008/07/the_presidents_unconscious.php:
It was more a diffuse collection of observations, anecdotes and arguments than a tightly-focused narrative. But even in inchoate form, the morning left me with the distinct impression that this book has the potential to catapult Brooks into Thomas Friedman or Malcolm Gladwell territory - except that unlike, say, Blink it'll actually be good as well.
Synonymous with: Store or corner shop
Example: Steve writes:
The submission by Michel from Switzerland was bang-on with the common usage of many of the words in French that become pompous in English. One French word that has become a PAW, in my estimation, and one that only a few English-speakers worldwide will recognize (and it is almost exclusively those from Montreal) is dépanneur, meaning "convenience store" or "corner store". In French, once sense of the verb dépanner means "to support" or "help out". So, in time of need, one goes to the "support store" or dépanneur to buy a few things to get them through until another trip to the grocery store. The word is used quite often by Montreal anglos because the dépanneur also usually happens to be the place most Montrealers buy their beer. To make matters worse, the word has now been reduced to "dep", as it seems that both anglophone and francophone Montrealers find the word dépanneur too long to pronounce in its entirety.
It's probably best that a PAW not be regional because I'm sure there are language quirks like this everywhere. This is the first of that type I've received though, so it makes the list due to novelty as well. From http://www.canada.com/montrealgazette/news/westisland/story.html?id=2552e8ef-e0b7-4401-bd21-cc0ff487db46:
When he stopped near a dépanneur, an older boy demanded that he hand over his ipod.
Follow the link for the exciting conclusion!
Synonymous with: smelly or noxious
Example: Morty Abzug writes:
The PAW that annoys me most is "noisome". You can find lots of articles that use it on Google news. Here is one from http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/06/04/style/fkaoriweb.php:Now in Beijing the bicycles that for so long have been a trademark of the city are almost gone, replaced by sleek cars and noisome trucks.The word means smelly, or malodorous. What makes this word particularly bad is that it looks like it should mean "noisy" rather than "smelly." The "noisy" meaning often works in context. So it's not just pompous, it's misleading.
Synonymous with: dash or slight trace
Example: First, the mark under the c in "ç" is called a cedilla and is "a mark (¸) placed under a consonant letter, as under c in French, in Portuguese, and formerly in Spanish, to indicate that it is pronounced (s)". When I'm sent to the reference section to track down individual letters in a word that is a good indication we have a PAW on our hands. The cedilla seems to be used or replaced with a "c" interchangeably in English. Amanda O'Brien sent it in, and she writes: "Thought you'd take this double whammy into consideration. Vogue magazine is dripping with pompous ass words. They use the word insouciant or insouciance at least once an issue. And soupcon is a regular as well. But this is a two-fer:
With sophistication and a soupcon of insouciance, 23-year-old Lauren Remington Platt is taking New York (London and Paris, too) by storm.
It's in the flash section and (mercifully) doesn't attribute it to a specific writer." I wouldn't claim it either.
Synonymous with: carefree
Example: See above. The word "carefreeness" is listed as a synonym for insouciance. I'll grant that carefreeness seems clumsy, so maybe it's not a PAW as a noun. It definitely is as an adjective though, and when coupled with another PAW it absolutely goes over the top. Amanda's web site is a fun read, by the way. I was particularly amused by this:
You know, I see how it might seem counterintuitive. But sometimes you actually save time by using all of the syllables in a word.
I suspect working with language experts all day would be pretty entertaining if you're a competent speaker and keep you on your toes if you aren't.
Synonymous with: mischievous
Example: Rich Ernst writes: I have an article from CNN that may be of interest. The writer, in order to sound impressive, apparently, used a fairly obscure (adjectival) definition of "arch":
The Coens, who have been known for their arch style and oddball humor in films such as "Fargo," "O Brother, Where Art Thou" and "The Big Lebowski," received some laughs for Ethan Coen's laconic acceptance speeches.
I've seen "arch" more often than most of the other PAWs but for some reason it strikes me as too precious by half. Up it goes! Aaron Petry has this caveat though:
I think that arch, used as an adjective, isn't quite the same as "mischievous." Merriam-Webster's on-line says "a: mischievous, saucy b: marked by a deliberate and often forced playfulness, irony, or impudence." I'll grant that it has mischievous right there, but it also has saucy. There's an underlying connotation of lewdness in arch that just doesn't exist with mischievous. I could see describing Mrs. Robinson from The Graduate as "arch," but not as mischievous. Likewise, I could see describing Jerry from Tom and Jerry as mischievous, but not arch. Of course, I find ersatz to be more offensive than arch, so maybe it's just personal prejudice.
He makes a fine point. I've seen several Coen brothers movies though, and "saucy" doesn't come to mind with any of them. I think it is generally used as a synonym for mischievous, but per Aaron when used to mean mischievous AND saucy it may not be a PAW.
Synonymous with: revival
Example: George Will at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/01/04/AR2008010403561.html:
Barack Obama, who might be mercifully closing the Clinton parenthesis in presidential history, is refreshingly cerebral amid this recrudescence of the paranoid style in American politics.
Synonymous with: summary
Example: Stephen Metcalf at http://www.slate.com/id/2179073/:
Much of Saletan's précis of the rest of the research surveyed in "Thirty Years of Research Into Race Differences on Cognitive Abilities" is highly questionable.
Synonymous with: supernatural
Example: Troy Darling sent the following; the rest of the entry is his: My candidate for PAW comes from the oeuvre of Anne Rice, whose use of the word 'preternatural' is so frequent it drives me to distraction, even as I seemed to enjoy the stories enough to read several of her novels. It wasn't hard to find examples online. (Searching Google for "Preternatural anne rice excerpt" yields 865 hits.) The excerpt [here] is a good case in point as it uses the word twice within a few paragraphs:
His face had the subtle preternatural gleam which only I could detect, and love, and properly appreciate, and eventually kiss....And there we stood divided, laden with preternatural gifts, both fit and rather full of emotion, and unable to communicate except in the simplest and best way, perhaps--with words.
Here's a good usage note from The Columbia Guide to Standard American English:
Preternatural means "beyond or transcending nature and natural laws and feelings" and hence often "exceptional, extraordinary," or even "unusual."
Technically, she uses the word correctly, but because her subjects are inherently outside nature, using the word as an adjective renders it redundant. For me, every time she uses the word, I read it as 'spooky' -- as if she's saying, "This vampire is really spooky, eerie even. I'm trying to say this vampire is not natural."
Synonymous with: 1. Pompous or 2. Sonorous
Example: Aaron McHugh sent in a twofer with Natalie Angier at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/21/science/21angi.html?_r=1&oref=slogin:
Humans have a long, tangled relationship with lead, now celebrating its pliant versatility, now fearing its orotund power, and who knows if we can ever put our saturnine genie back in the bottle we’ve been mining for at least 5,000 years.
I'm not entirely sure which definition she's using here.
Synonymous with: suffering from lead poisoning, as a person
Example: See above
Doesn't "put our saturnine genie back in the bottle" just sound ridiculous? Or vaguely obscene? I think saturnine is one of those words (like amygdala) that makes sense in a medical/scientific setting but is pure PAW in general usage. Zalmoxsis notes it can also mean "cold and steady in mood : slow to act or change b: of a gloomy or surly disposition c: having a sardonic aspect" and writes "'dour, gloomy' doesn't necessarily convey the same thing. A saturnine person is dour and gloomy because of inexorable fate. He or she was born like that, has always been saturnine, and could never change merely by wishing it."
Word: ne plus ultra
Synonymous with: highest point/acme/ultimate
Example: Jessica Winter at http://www.slate.com/id/2168857/:
The idea for the Minisode Network reportedly gathered added steam after Sony executives saw the ne plus ultra of homemade highlight reels, Paul Gulyas and Joe Sabia's "The Seven Minute Sopranos," which has been viewed more than 500,000 times since it was uploaded to YouTube at the end of March.
Synonymous with: hairy
Example: John Swansburg at http://www.slate.com/id/2168353:
That's why it's so tough to handicap whether my hirsute friend in New Hampshire will follow Junior to Hendrick—the team that also happens to employ one Jeff Gordon.
This is a modified violation because at the end of the article he writes:
If I were a very hairy man with an "8" on my back, I'd be excited that my guy's now poised for a run at the Cup.
So he may be covered by the exception on this one. It looks like he wanted to avoid repetition but I still don't like it. Hmmmmm.
Synonymous with: beginner
Example: Camille Paglia at http://www.salon.com/opinion/paglia/2007/06/13/gore/print.html:
Hillary's intricate experience with the Washington bureaucracy makes Edwards (toward whom I've been leaning) and Obama (whom I may shift to) look like shaky tyros.
Synonymous with: stripper
Example: Troy Patterson at http://www.slate.com/id/2167873/
The bachelor should be teased, humiliated, and possibly oil-wrestled by a professional ecdysiast.
Synonymous with: weariness or indifference
Last year an immigration bill surfaced and all hell broke loose again. It was the dominant subject on talk radio for two months, and helped contribute to the lassitude that overcame the GOP base in the months before the election.
On a side note, a commenter at that page posted the following amusing line: "Good to see liberals and conservatives working together for a change, even if it is on goofy conspiracy theories."
Synonymous with: pertaining to a fish or fishes
Example: From http://www.rollcall.com/issues/52_123/news/18421-1.html. During the glacially slow end of Alberto Gonzales' job as Attorney General some his defenders figured out they couldn't keep calling the investigation into his conduct a "fishing expedition" month after month after month. Solution? Grab the thesaurus!
In what may be the most spirited public defense of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to date, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee today will demand an end to what one called an "endless piscine expedition" in the U.S. attorneys scandal.
This constitutes vigorous action in Washington D.C.
Synonymous with: profession or specialty
Example: The example is from http://nymag.com/news/politics/Bush/26997/, but first a comment. When I come across a PAW I'll mentally snort and think "what a pompous ass." If there's a second one close on its heels I'll think "this is ridiculous" and be annoyed. If there's a third one right after that I'll make note of the writer's name so I can approach future articles with an appropriately low opinion. With that in mind, ladies and gentlemen I present you John Heilemann!
Yet it’s worth considering the possibility that Bush’s madman-at-the-wheel métier owes as much to psychological factors as to structural ones.
It doesn't look like métier is even used correctly here - wouldn't style or personality be better choices? No matter, he's warming up and can't break his momentum over quibbles like proper usage! Next he tees up:
Synonymous with: A tray (for serving food or drinks).
[H]ere the president and his party were handed an exit strategy on a silver salver: a set of recommendations leading to a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops that most Democrats would have swallowed hard and signed onto.
"Silver platter" is a universally used phrase. When I read "salver" I thought, "if it means platter this is clearly a guy who loves the sound of his own voice". Yes and yes! Finally there's this, which ordinarily I wouldn't bother with here since it's not a PAW:
Pathological narcissism? Delusions of grandeur? Res ipsa loquitur. There have been other presidents, of course, who could readily be described as suffering from these same maladies.
Res ipsa loquitur is a legal term from the Latin meaning literally, "The thing itself speaks" but is more often translated "The thing speaks for itself". The doctrine is applied to tort claims which, as a matter of law, do not have to be explained beyond the obvious facts.
First of all, only lawyers or REALLY old school Catholics should use Latin phrases like that (actually neither should but it's so ingrained to both that they may as well be grandpatered [HAR!] in). Second, when someone tells me something is obvious, goes without saying speaks for itself or is common sense I immediately go on Code Red BS Alert. More often then not such appeals are just passive-aggressive attempts to bully you into quietly agreeing. It's also a popular way to breeze past a potentially thorny issue. I try to respond along the lines of "well I'm slow so spell it out for me anyway."
Sorry for the digression; back to PAWs.
Synonymous with: itinerant
Example: Aaron McHugh writes: The use of peripatetic for itinerant or wanderer; especially offensive is using the redundant phrase "peripatetic wanderer" to simultaneously be pompous and patronizing. One example from http://www.indyweek.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A30035:
Barham constantly sounds like he's going somewhere, and he casts himself as a peripatetic wanderer, a rolling stone with a guitar and, he hopes, a story.
Synonymous with: native to
Example: Aaron McHugh sends along http://www.motherjones.com/commentary/columns/2006/05/rampage_at_haditha.html:
However isolated and aberrant it was, Haditha represents something endemic, and is destined to become a watchword for the headlong excess of the conflict in Iraq and the perils of long-term occupation.
Wouldn't typical or unexceptional be better ways to describe Haditha's relation to the occupation? I don't think the point is that such excess is native to Haditha (something in the water? or are those Hadithans just a rowdy bunch?) Maybe it's endemic to the perils of long-term occupation, but the "headlong excess" bit in front really muddies it. A terrible word horribly used.
Synonymous with: shell
Example: Gwen Ifill at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/10/opinion/10ifill.html:
They are not old enough, or established enough, to have built up the sort of carapace many women I know - black women in particular - develop to guard themselves against casual insult.
Synonymous with: lethargy
Example: Meghan Daum at http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-daum2apr02,0,4699095.column:
It's the aspiring young middle-class writer's worst-case scenario. You get to college armed with pages of prose that capture the soul-sucking torpor of your suburban adolescence, only to find yourself in a writing class with a former child soldier who spent years fighting the Revolutionary United Front after his Sierra Leone village was torched and his entire family killed. And the guy can actually write!
Synonymous with: sleep inducing or sleepy
Example: Chris Lehmann at http://observer.com/20070402/20070402_Chris_Lehmann_opinions_newsstory1.asp
The impresarios of Washington, D.C.’s tourist industry have retained a battery of image consultants to furnish a new city catchphrase, like Seattle’s brand-new "Metronatural" or Little Rock’s in-your-face "the Rock." D.C. boosters have been making do with a soporific Ken Burns–style appositive, "the American Experience," and the city’s oddly intransitive license-plate slogan, "Celebrate and Discover."
This paragraph inspired a new page on the PAW site; ladies and gentlemen I present you the current holder of the "Most Pompous Paragraph" championship belt (all divisions)!
Synonymous with: dangerous
Example: Christopher Hitchens at http://www.slate.com/id/2161629/
Of course, all this is still heavily overshadowed by the daily menace of vicious jihadist sabotage, of corruption in a sectarian oil ministry, and of the generally parlous state of the infrastructure.
This one is especially bad because http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/parlous also says "[Origin: 1350–1400; ME, var. of perlous, syncopated var. of perilous]". So what's wrong with using perilousinstead?
Synonymous with: censure or disgrace
Example: Michael Kinsley at http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1597658,00.html:
[Lewis] Libby is suffering well-deserved obloquy.
Synonymous with: offensive
Example: From Timothy Noah at http://www.slate.com/id/2160222/pagenum/all/:
I hope it isn't lost on readers that my aim was not to reinstate myself but rather to argue against Wikipedia's "notability" standard itself and to use it as a newfangled illustration of our society's love affair with invidious distinction.
Synonymous with: lackey
Example: From Clive James http://www.slate.com/id/2159927:
The frightening thing is that any regime dedicated to ruling by terror so easily finds a sufficient supply of lethal myrmidons.
Synonymous with: begging
Example: From George Will http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/21/AR2007022101585.html:
First, China was infuriated by North Korea's October nuclear test, which fizzled but expressed defiance of China. So now China seems amenable to serious pressure on its mendicantneighbor, which is substantially dependent on China for food and energy.
Synonymous with: chaotic
Example: From Bill Kristol at http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/013/236diejk.asp:
Now, politicians are entitled to be concerned about their political survival....Indeed, they're entitled to ignore the fact that voting for this resolution somewhat increases the chances of ashambolic outcome to Bush's foreign policy, and therefore may not be in their own interest.
Is it me or does "shambolic" sound like it belongs in an Austin Powers movie? The online reference I use is http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/shambolic and there it's characterized as "Chiefly British Slang". On the other hand it wasn't even listed in the old dictionary I keep handy for everyday usage. So let me note the following: It's a PAW when an American writing for an American audience uses it. It may not be a PAW when used by Brits, but I'd like more information on that. I asked for some British feedback on this and the result is here (#4).
Synonymous with: enroll. At http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/matriculate "to enroll in a college or university as a candidate for a degree", which made me think: As opposed to enrolling just for the parties.
Example: A St. Louis reader sent http://www.prepreview.com/english/us/rank/stanford_2030608043018686zewonen123.htm, the link for the Stanford Matriculation College Preparatory School Ranking, which offers:
Premium Content: Ranking of top college preparatory schools with the highest Stanford University matriculation plus individual school profiles
There's some Premium Content you just can't put a price on.
Synonymous with: cowardly
Example: Mark Matich sent the following (slightly edited), which is even better than a link:
I was watching CNN about 7 years ago or so, and on it was George Bush (the first) talking about why he didn't go all the way to Baghdad the first time and get rid of Saddam. Somewhere in what he was saying, he used the word "pusillanimous" and I vividly remember thinking "He just made that up. There's no way that's a word", but sure enough it is.
Synonymous with: quibble
Connecticut uses a lot of electricity each day. It is, however, inhospitable to companies that generate power and sell it to consumers. We cavil at every proposal to build new generators and welcome suppliers.
Ashley Odell sent this to me and writes: "'Cavil'? There's a reason usage guides say you should used 'nitpick' or 'quibble over' instead. And, you know, if you can barely find it on Google from sources other than pretentious word-of-the-day lists, there's another clue for you. Just sayin'."
Synonymous with: teaching
Fourteen international secondary teachers from the Middle East and Asia will arrive Wednesday at Southeast Missouri State University to study advanced pedagogy, curriculum construction and instructional technology.
As a side note, it seems to be used most frequently by colleges of education (and their siblings) and non-native English speaking countries. A recent search of Google news showed links to Cuba, Jamaica and Vietnam. I have no idea what to make of this. Or at least I didn't until I received this from Mark Severs:
"Pedagogy" is a common translation of foreign words meaning "teaching as a profession" as distinct from the act of teaching. Take for instance the German word "Pedagogik", being a subject one might study in a university or teacher-training college. In US and UK English, this is an obsolete word, but that might not be true in Jamaica. Possibly Cuban Spanish and Vietnamese might have imported the antique English word, or perhaps a continental variant of it (Castilian Spanish? French?) and continued using it up to the present day. In Britain, "to study advanced pedagogy, curriculum construction and instructional technology." would simply be rendered as "to train as a teacher". In an ad designed to appeal to foreign nationals, it may be that Missouri State used what they considered an "international English" form? Your Kansas City scribe might then have just copied the ad content verbatim, as a blame-throwing measure.
We take no shortcuts here in America, sir. The search for the real explanation continues...
Synonymous with: beautiful
Example: Sent by Jeff Merritt. I can't improve on what we wrote, so here it is copied and pasted. Please note: I have no opinion of Wynton (or any other) Marsalis and Jeff's comments are his own only. If they outrage you it won't do any good to send me an email. Your best bet is to track him down and give him a piece of your mind, and be sure to wag your finger vigorously in his face when you do so. I'm sure he'll feel terrible.
I thought of a word you might want to add. In the liner notes for his album "Thick in the South: Soul Gestures in Southern Blue Vol. 1" (pompous ass title, huh?), chief pompous jazz ass Wynton Marsalis writes this about the title track:"'Thick in the South' is a condition, a location, an attitude, a pulchritudinous proposition, and an occurrence."Pulchritudinous? Obviously he was going for alliteration with "proposition," and I actually kind of like the way it sounds, but it so perfectly fits his elitist attitude that it seems worth labeling as a pompous ass word for all the world to see. "Beautiful" or something similar would have worked as well and would have spared us all a trip across the room to our dictionaries.The liner notes can be found at the link below, although the exact address for them is elusive because of Marsalis' pompous ass Flash web site, so you have to navigate a bit.
Synonymous with: figure of speech
Example: Andi Werblin alerted me to http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/10/08/reviews/001008.08suthert.html:
Who now cultivates or reveres the sharp-edged art of the epigram, the well-placed flourish, the daring trope, the Shandyan excursus, the smart simile, Ciceronian copiousness, Senecan taciturnity, cunning variation of pace, tone, tempo and rhetorical force -- that whole repertory of effects subsumed under the word "prose"?
She also says "this word is a creative writing school darling. It makes me wish I had never gone to creative writing school."
Synonymous with: think
Example: Stephen Minton sent this from http://dir.salon.com/story/tech/feature/2002/03/19/auerbach/index.html:
I essentially have to ask the approval of management to see certain documents. They go cogitate and then tell me whether I can see them.
Synonymous with: daily or common
Example: Sabrina Qedesha sent along this from http://nymag.com/news/profiles/26988/index.html:
As in the rest of her life, she had declared war on pathetic, quotidian self-pity
Synonymous with: as
Example: From The Conservative Voice at http://www.theconservativevoice.com/article/21465.html:
This is the Redirection. It is the denial of man qua man. The Elites approach it through the Science = Certainty / Democracy = Uncertainty Reciprocal and Islam through its destruction of the Self, Society, and the Divine by translating all of the Whole into Umma via a murderous Islamic law that pays no real mind to any purpose other than the Umma as represented by the Islamic World State.
Eric Gosnell sent "qua" along and writes:
I've only seen it used one place and that's in the book "Ghost in the Machine" by Arthur Koestler. In this particular book, he uses the word qua frequently, and does so in true pompous ass form.
Here's a quote from that...
"the essential difference between primitive identification, resulting in a homogeneous flock, and mature forms of integration in a social hierarchy. In a well-balanced hierarchy, the individual retains his character as a social holon [self aware sub-assembly], a part-whole, who qua whole, enjoys autonomy within the limits of the restraints imposed by the interests of the community."
WOW!! Is it me or is this an especially pompous word? Lip read either quote above and pretend you're the one saying it. Don't you feel compelled to pause and put slow and dramatic emphasis on "qua"? It's a pompous word that demands pompous usage!
Note this can also be used with "sine qua non" (essential element) as in http://www.metimes.com/storyview.php?StoryID=20070110-125826-8016r: "In recent weeks, the Bush-Hamilton Iraq Study Group's report, as well as Brent Scowcroft, national security advisor to both presidents Ford and Bush, in a widely published op-ed, have emphasized the imperative necessity of a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal as a sine qua non to restoring America's credibility in the Middle East." I didn't want to use the same word for two entries but otherwise sine qua non would be deserving.
Peter Schuyff sent this along this: "In theNetherlands (in Dutch), the word 'qua' is used in the same manner and the same grammar as described and quoted on your site. but it used used by everybody, not just pompous assholes."
Synonymous with: urinate
Example: From Seth Stevenson http://slate.msn.com/id/2110114/:
Bud and Miller have been in a micturating match for a while now.
Just call a pissing match a pissing match.
Synonymous with: Stand-in, maybe? Proxy? From http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=synecdoche: substituting a more inclusive term for a less inclusive one or vice versa
M-W says: a figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole (as fifty sail for fifty ships), the whole for a part (as society for high society), the species for the genus (as cutthroat for assassin), the genus for the species (as a creature for a man), or the name of the material for the thing made (as boards for stage)
Example: Michelle Goldberg at http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2004/09/30/brozak/index_np.html:
Steve Brozak is running for Congress in New Jersey against George W. Bush. Sure, his opponent on the ticket is Republican incumbent Mike Ferguson. But as Brozak sees it, Ferguson is just a synecdoche for the Bush team, whose failings drove Brozak out of the Marines and the Republican Party and into the first political campaign of his life.
treeunit sent in the following clarification, which prompted the M-W link this far down the list:
"Synecdoche" is a term for a specific literary device. When creating a synecdoche, one mentions one aspect of something as a representative for the entire thing. For example, when someone says "Nice Wheels!" they are actually saying your entire car is nice. Many average, down-to-earth writers use synecdoches, and as long as the word remains on your list they will not be able to discuss their writing with others without sounding like pompous asses.
Thanks to Mr. Unit for the additional information. So: Using synecdoches isn't pompous but using the word synecdoche outside a literary setting - especially when a word like proxy will work just as well - is pure PAW. (This should not be taken to imply a jihad against all terms for literary devices outside literary settings.)
Synonymous with: Strong criticism; a critical or censorious remark.
Example: Mark Follman quotes William Buckley at http://www.salon.com/opinion/right_hook/2004/10/20/cheney_stewart/index.html:
The National Review's William Buckley was more attuned to the nuances of the issue...."This last interpretation of it was taken by an evangelical Christian politician, Gary Bauer, who ran for the presidency four years ago. He reasoned as follows: that traditional-values voters would react to the public reference as to an animadversion against the Bush ticket, and that by saying what he had said, Kerry could reasonably hope 'to knock l or 2 percent off in some rural areas by causing people to turn on the president.'"
Synonymous with: Idle chatter; prattle.
Example: From Maureen Dowd at http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/26/opinion/26dowd.html:
Just as Mr. Cheney, Rummy and the neocons turned W. into a host body for their old schemes to knock off Saddam, transform the military and set up a pre-emption doctrine to strike at allies and foes that threatened American hyperpower supremacy, so now W. has turned Mr. Allawi into a host body for the Panglossian palaver that he believes will get him re-elected.
On the other hand, Panglossian: Blindly or naively optimistic. Nice. I think she was pressing too hard for alliteration. I heard from a number of Brits that it's commonly used to mean "fuss", and one reader said "I think most people here in the UK will easily recognise what this word means and, if any, its association is with the lower classes." So noted.
Synonymous with: (as a PAW) Emotions. Defined at http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=amygdala as "An almond-shaped mass of gray matter in the anterior portion of the temporal lobe. Also called amygdaloid nucleus." A reader sent along the more helpful "a portion of the brain that is responsible for, among other things, mediating emotional responses." Outside of an anatomy class I don't know why it should be used (especially since the definition doesn't say what its function is).
Example: In an otherwise excellent essay William Safire writes in http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/21/opinion/21safi.html:
I prefer the canon to the fireworks and a speech that appeals to the brain's reasoning facilities to a demidocumentary film arousing the amygdala.
Synonymous with: I don't know exactly. http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=prelapsarian defines it as "Of or relating to the period before the fall of Adam and Eve." I just think there is no reasonoutside of a theology seminar to need to refer to the period before the fall of Adam and Eve. This word inspired reason #3 on the why it's a PAW page.
Example: From Michael Kinsley at http://slate.msn.com/id/2093949/:
[H]e felt that Washington had become infested with politics and corruption since he first worked there in the prelapsarian innocence of the Nixon administration.
Synonymous with: From http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=desideratum Something considered necessary or highly desirable:
Example: From Daniel Gross at http://slate.msn.com/id/2086889/:
Name recognition is the great desideratum of a nascent restaurant chain (or political candidate).
Synonymous with: From http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=tsuris: (Informal) Trouble; aggravation
Example: From David Edelstein at http://slate.msn.com/id/2087000/:
You watch him as he trudges around the city, hunched over, a chip on his shoulder the size of Cleveland, and wonder how a man could survive under the weight of so much tsuris.
Synonymous with: Capable of soothing or eliminating pain. Relaxing: anodyne novels about country life.
Example: From the Financial times at http://news.ft.com/servlet/ContentServer?pagename=FT.com/StoryFT/FullStory&c=StoryFT&cid=1057562384589
[The central bank's] decision - and an ambiguous and anodyne statement released with it - helped spark a big rise in bond yields, undoing much of the fall in long-term interest rates that had loosened monetary conditions earlier in the year and provided a supportive environment to growth.
Synonymous with: No one word exactly but it sounds horrendously pompous and there has to be a way to not use it. Definition: Unfulfilled or frustrated in the realization of one's ambitions or capabilities: an artist manqué; a writer manqué.
Example: From Daniel Gross at http://slate.msn.com/id/2083926/:
To the vast majority of professional academic economists-not the economists manqués who inhabit intellectual biospheres such as the Wall Street Journal editorial page and certain time slots on CNBC-the debate over the Laffer Curve is long since settled.
Synonymous with: From http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=paltering: To talk or act insincerely or misleadingly; equivocate. To be capricious; trifle. To quibble, especially in bargaining.
Example: George Will provides the following at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A15175-2003Jun4.html:
Giamatti knew exactly why "boys will be boys" is not a satisfactory response to paltering with the rules of the game.
Synonymous with: Deserved; adequate
Example: George comes through with this one at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A46940-2003Aug11.html:
Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who is a candidate to succeed him, would become governor, the recall would deflate and the Democratic Party's condign punishment probably would be to continue wrestling with the problems it has created or exacerbated.
The liberals' conundrum is condign punishment for the discordance between the way they talk and the way they live.
Synonymous with: Concealed; hidden
Example: And he completes the hat trick at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A28082-2003May7.html
Is not such recondite reasoning, leading to such opaque conclusions about such baroque regulations of speech, prima facie evidence of incompatibility with the austere brevity of the First Amendment?
Could we find a more pompous ass passage this year? I don't think so. Of course, Bill Bennett is still out there. Now, you might say Dr. Will is being ironic here and using that language to make his point about regulating speech. There are two problems with that. First, it isn't too much different from his un-ironic writing so it doesn't exactly announce itself. Second, it's too clever by half. It labors mightily for almost no result. Groucho Marx knew how to make a lot of work seem effortless and funny as well: "Well, art is art, isn't it? Still, on the other hand, water is water! And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does." That's how it's done.
Synonymous with: A gaping grin or grimace
Example: It was Word of the Day for Thursday February 6, 2003. See http://dictionary.reference.com/wordoftheday/archive/2003/02/06.html
Word: fait accompli
Synonymous with: (French) "a thing that is already done so that opposition or argument is useless." (Webster's Unabridged.). Foregone conclusion.
Example: Jim provides the following unattributed usage:
The war with Iraq is, in essence, a fait accompli, regardless of the views of the other countries in the United Nations.
Synonymous with: From http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=rodomontade%20: "rodomontade - Pretentious boasting or bragging; bluster."
Example: From http://espn.go.com/page2/s/tmq/021203.html:
First-round holdout tackle Bryant McKinnie, who's already trying to compete with Moss for most grating rodomontade in Minnesota, was the "uncovered" player, requiring him to report to the officials as eligible.
Word: in medias res
Synonymous with: (Latin) In the middle of things: used esp. of a narrative that opens in the middle rather than at the chronological beginning.
Example: Time magazine took care of it in its review of installment 2 of Lord of the Rings. From http://www.time.com/time/covers/1101021202/story.html:
It begins in medias res, as though you had just stepped out for a few seconds to get more popcorn. If you didn't see last year's The Fellowship of the Ring, Peter Jackson, the trilogy's wizardly director, isn't about to cut you any slack.
Even though it's clear enough in context, it could have been removed entirely with no loss of meaning. Having it in there broke up the flow at the very beginning of the article because I stopped to wonder "what is that?!"
Word: casus belli
Synonymous with: An act or event that provokes or is used to justify war. (From http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=casus%20belli)
Examples: The Guardian came through in a big way for me on this one. A quick search for just one immediately turned up three references:
"There must be a second resolution before further Iraqi infractions are formally converted into a casus belli"
"And it was a hard fight, especially in Britain, his adopted country, where The Satanic Verses, the casus belli for Iran's theological thugs, was written."
"It is quite possible and indeed probable that there will be genuine differences of opinion among the permanent five (P5) about whether Iraq, at any given moment, has committed the sort of "material breach" that is a casus belli under 1441."
WOW! Impressive, don't you think?
Definition (from http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=seppuku): Ritual suicide by disembowelment formerly practiced by Japanese samurai. Also called hara-kiri.
Example: From http://slate.msn.com/?id=2074439:
Meanwhile, James K. Glassman, co-author of the science-fiction classic Dow 36,000, who should have had the good manners to commit seppuku when the market flushed, continues to shovel his go-go wisdom in the Sunday Post, and the "Business" section continues to plug local tech companies with generous daily coverage, albeit with a post-bust blush on its face.
Synonymous with: Nickname
Example: None available. I just thought of it this week and knew it had to be included.
Synonymous with: Biased
Example: From Jonah Goldberg at http://www.nationalreview.com/goldberg/goldberg200407300202.asp:
Al Gore, Barack Obama, and countless lesser lights of the Democratic party have been hinting all week that Republicans don't want votes counted, and that poor Democrats are the victims of this mean-spirited attitude. This is all tendentious nonsense.
A second sighting from Alessandra Stanley at http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/24/politics/campaign/24watch.html:
Facts, half-truths and passionately tendentious opinions get tumbled together on screen like laundry in an industrial dryer.
Synonymous with: Dull; also immature.
Example: From http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/03/books/review/Dore.t.html (second page):
Aldridge’s sarcasm is jejune, his Scottish-nationalist agenda tiresome and his use of quotations sometimes mendaciously inaccurate
Synonymous with: Laughable
Example: I think Maureen Dowd sold her monopoly certificate on this word to George Will; she's stopped using it and he's started. From http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A6963-2004Sep8.html:
The atrocity at School No. 1 in Beslan, Russia -- the worst act of terrorism since Sept. 11 -- was one episode in Russia's 150-year struggle with Chechen separatists and involved a political "perfect storm," the convergence of nationalism, ethnicity and religion.
But even if he succeeds, he continues to deepen the risible incoherence of his still-multiplying positions on Iraq.
I update the site as needed, so there may be stretches of inactivity. New entries go at the top so you can check for updates quickly, and of course you can be the source of updates yourself.