Several months ago we said, "This week we'll present seven pairs of easily-confused words. This being Wordcraft, however, our pairs will not be so commonplace as imply/infer or lie/lay."
We return to that thought and, as then, "We start with a pair half of which is familiar."
solecism – 1. a word blunder: a nonstandard usage or grammatical construction 2. a social blunder: a violation of etiquette; an impropriety
solipsism – the philosophical view that the self is all that exists, or is all that can be known to exist
– Gerard Baker, The Statesman (India), August 25, 2004
Yesterday's word solipsism leads us naturally to today's two words. Though they are often used interchangeably, and that use is quite proper, there is a distinction.
egoism – excessive concern for oneself (often with an inflated sense of self-importance)
egotism – talking about oneself too much; self-exaltation; self-praise; magnifying or parading oneself (in words or in action)
Our first quotation keys on the distinction between the two, in careful speech. Says MW, "Egoism is a state in which the feelings are concentrated on one's self. Its expression is egotism. Egotism is the acting out of self-conceit, or self-importance, in words and exterior conduct."
– Greg Cote, The Miami Herald, August 31, 2004
[*NFL = National Football League, the professional league in US football]
This is a typical act of seeking regional egoism of local politicians, who only think of the interest of their constituents, ignoring national real estate policy.
– Local egoism runs amok, Joongang Daily, South Korea, Sept. 6, 2004
Poland joined an outcry Thursday against a French proposal to cut structural funds for new European Union members that have tax rates below the EU average. President Aleksander Kwasniewski said: "We should be able to benefit from structural funds, if not we will never be able to overcome the inequalities that exist on our continent. European leaders must renounce their egoism."
– EUbusiness, UK, Sept. 9, 2004
incommensurable – without a common measure on which to compare; "like apples and oranges"
– Elizabeth Macdonald and Chana R. Schoenberger, World's 100 most powerful women, Forbes, Aug. 20, 2004
– Patrick M. Lencioni, Death by Meeting
– Marta Yamamoto, Berkeley Daily Planet, September 17, 2004
venial – forgivable; not heinous; pardonable
. . . .[A venial sin is often contrasted with a mortal sin, in Catholic religious doctrine.]
venal – corruptible; open to bribery
. . . .[Venal is related to vendor, with the underlying sense of "available for purchase".]
venery¹ – sexual love (adj. venereal)
venery² – the act or sport of hunting (adj. venatic; venatical)
. . . .[Each sense of venery comes, sensibly, from the root wen- "to desire, strive for". From that same root are win, wish, and venerate.]
– Michael Burge and Elena Gaona, San Diego Union-Tribune, August 28, 2004
While my companion eyed the tarte tatin and checked whether gluttony was mortal or just venial, I chose strawberry meringue.
– Zoë Strachan, The Scotsman, Aug. 21, 2004
The lack of system and order in our streets gives venal traffic enforcers an opportunity to mulct unsuspecting motorists for imagined violations.
– Dante A. Ang, Manila Sunday Times, Sept. 5, 2004
On a sunny autumn afternoon like yesterday, this lush little course on the Netherhampton downs seems a world away from the venal business of race-fixing.
– Greg Wood, The Guardian, Sept. 3, 2004
Venial always reminds me of the Catholics and their venial sins. If I recall, they have mortal and venial sins. Here is a Web site defining them. I don't mean to start a big religious discussion. I am just wondering if those sins are talked about as much as they were when I was a child.
That which is easily understood, vs. he who is good at understanding.
perspicuous – clearly expressed; easy to understand
perspicacious – having penetrating mental discernment, keen understanding
To remember which is which, it may help to associate 'perspicuous' with 'conspicuous'.
– Katie Owen, reviewing a novel by Nicola Barker, The Telegraph, Sept. 15, 2004
The philosopher clarifies basic theoretical ideas and sets out conceptions of justice in a perspicuous form, so that people can see clearly the arguments for and against them, and can compare them to their own considered judgments about justice.
– Martha C. Nussbaum, Ernst Freund Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, as intervied in Change, Jan.-Feb., 2002
Yesterday we had a word-pair about clarity. Today's pair concerns obscurity. The dictionaries obscure the meanings in a tangle of inconsistencies between dictionaries and, sometimes, within a single dictionary.
To disentangle: just as "I see," can mean, "My eyes behold," or, "I understand," so too something obscure can hard to view, or hard to understand. Today's terms make that distinction.
obscurant – something that obscures to the vision, as a smokescreen [chiefly military] (adj: tending to obscure visually: obscurant clouds)
obscurantist – one who writes with deliberate vagueness, obscure to the understanding (adj: so written)*
My mathematician friend insists the book is "a parody of math books." He couldn't make head nor tail of it, and said that Mr. Wallace is either an "obscurantist" or just showing off. The text is a thicket of symbols and equations. Mr. Wallace lists 37 abbreviations on pages 3 and 4, supposedly for convenience. It is not convenient.
– Dick Teresi, book review, The New York Observer, Nov 17, 2003
obscurant; obscurantist – one opposing new ideas or social or political reform (adj: opposed to same)
William Manchester, A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance:
p. 184: "The fog of religious strife was, if anything, thicker than those of secular wars; obscurant theologians in Rome and hard-liners in the dioceses abroad saw the widening apostasy as an opportunity to stifle dissent."
p 119: "Then, in 1509, Johannes Pfefferkorn, a Dominican monk who was also a converted rabbi, published an anti-Semitic book proposing that all works in Hebrew be burned. Reuchlin, dismayed by the possibility of such desecration, formally protested to the emperor. Pfefferkorn, he wrote, was an anti-intellectual 'ass.' Reuchlin's riposte so outraged the Dominicans that the order, supported by the obscurantist clergy throughout Europe, lodged a charge of heresy against him."
*Andy Rooney missed the distinction, in Sincerely, Andy Rooney: "His booklet of black poems seems pretentious. I took little from a first reading. Anyone who decides to write poetry, should first master prose. I have not read enough of Ken Boulding's prose to know whether or not he had a license to write obscurant verse."
The sound of a word in one language might coincidentally also be a word, in another language, but with entirely different meaning. For example, to a Spaniard the sound [sē] (long e) means "yes," while in English the same sound means either "view" or "body of water" (see or sea).
Simalarly, Hebe in Greek was the goddess of youth, while hebes in Latin meant "dull" (like either a dull knife or a dull mind). Naturally, the English words derived from Greek Hebe and from Latin hebes have very similar sounds, but very different meanings.
hebetic – occurring at puberty [Gk Hebe=youth]
hebetude – mental dullness; lethargy [L hebes=dull]
. . .(adj: hebetudinous; hebate. verb: hebetate – to stupefy; to make dull
Note: With minor exception, this is mental dullness only. You cannot speak of "a hebate knife".
These words look very useful, and I commend them to you. But each is extremely rare. Indeed, for hebetic I can't find a single decent quotation.
– A. E. Houseman, Commentary on Manilius
an epidemic of hebetude among young people who . . . are placing too great a reliance on electronic devices to do their thinking and remembering.
– Reader's letter, in The Weekend Australian, Oct. 2, 2001
Habitude has engendered hebetude; and familiarity, overfamiliarity.
– Paul West, A Stroke of Genius: Illness and Self-Discovery
A few of my favorite pairings (errings?):
(Is there such a thing as a drive-by posting?)