Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Vocabulary from the Syllabus

Rigorous: Strict, difficult, challenging.

Zeitgeist: Spirit of the times. From the German "Zeit," which means time and "Geist," which means ghost or spirit. Healy's kids learned this last year.

Historiography: The study of how the writing and interpretation of history changes over time and is influenced by contemporary attitudes. From the Greek "historia," which means questioning or account, and "graphy," which means to write. We will frequently note how to "break it down" when discussing vocabulary. If you make a habit of looking at pieces of words, it will become easier and easier to learn new terms. For instance, if you know that "graphy" means to write and "bio" means life, when you see the two terms smooshed together, you'll know how to decode a new word.

Purple Prose: Overly complex or flowery language.

Triage: Sorting into three categories based on the urgency of attention. From the military practice of sorting casualties into three categories of: "Unlikely to survive without extensive care which we don't have time to give," "Likely to survive with immediate attention," and "Will survive even if attention is not immediate." This word has come to mean a prioritized sorting - what has to be done immediately, what can wait, and what must be dropped. From the Latin "tri" for three.

Orwellian Memory Hole: A good example of literature influencing the language. Often abbreviated to just "memory hole," the George Orwell phrase from 1984 denotes actions designed to erase evidence that a thing or person ever existed. The phrase has entered common usage among educated Americans and Anglophones (English speakers). Example of journalistic use can be found here.

Procrastinistas: People who follow the habit of procrastinating. From procrastination and "ista," which means follower. Popularized in American English during the Reagan administration because of the Sandinistas, "ista" is now commonly used to denote a follower or devotee - think "fashionista." The main point of this vocabulary word is not procrastination per se, but to demonstrate how the suffix ista can be used to create new words.

Neologism - A newly minted word. From "neo" for new and "log" for word. Languages evolve, my friends. Your English teacher (or gruff librarian) may try to tell you that there is only one way to speak the Queen's English.


If your reader can understand what you mean, then you have effectively communicated, non? Chaucer's Ye Olde English lacks words for many modern concepts and objects, so we make new ones.

The Washington Post's Style Invitational Contest often asks contestants to come up with neologisms.

Omniscient - All knowing. From the Latin "omni," which means all, and "scient," which means "know." Break it down: What does Omipresent mean?

Onus - Duty or responsiblity.

Dire - Warning of great danger, causing fear and suffering. If you are in a place of great danger, you can be said to be in Dire Straits.

Legitimate - According to the rules, correct, true, or good. From the Latin "leg" which means according to law.

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