Dr George’s Old-Fashioned Fancies

Wordy Weekly XXX


One slightly mad classics-related love of mine is the fact that it can introduce you to words, no longer used or considered a little outdated (well, I am a Classicist), that you may never have otherwise known (depending on your taste in reading that is: Conan-Doyle, Hardy, Austen, Brontës, even Christie will certainly give you a good start).


Well let’s start with ‘obsolete’. I first heard this word in year 8 history. I had not as yet started Latin, but was eagerly anticipating year 9. Anyway, we were about to start the Normans and our teacher was telling us how armour was changing to chain-mail. ‘Of course,’ she said’, ‘armour eventually becomes obsolete’ (in the sense of medieval, Norman, Tudor, etc.). She was, of course, referring to the invention of the gun and went into the grimace-causing description of a bullet bringing an extra little piece of wounding metal along for the ride. Eek! She then explained what ‘obsolete’ meant. Cool word, I thought. Fast forward to GCSE Latin and I came across ‘soleo’ meaning ‘to be accustomed to’. The prefix ‘ob’ means ‘getting in the way’, ‘blocking’. Now, I learned that ‘obsolete’ came from the past participle of ‘obsolesco’ (literally), ‘grow into a state of being out of date’. The -esco suffix denotes increasing or developing, hence ‘cresco’ is ‘to grow’ (and where the musical term ‘crescendo’ comes from). So, ‘obsolete’ derives from ‘obsolesco’ as follows:


Ø The past participle is: ‘obsoletus’ meaning ‘having become ‘out of date/old-fashioned.’

Ø Literally, this means ‘that which became customary having been blocked’, a blocked custom discontinues, and so is out of date.


I think it is the logic of the composition of this word that attracts me and that a single word captures quite a complex thought.


Moving on from obsolete to a real favourite. In writings of days gone by (no, not when I was young! Cheek!), rather than branding someone ‘guilty of terrible disgrace’, you might say that they were ‘a veritable example of moral turpitude’. Every single noun and adjective in this sentence is Latin and I will explain all. But the cool and sadly forgotten word is ‘turpitude’. It comes from the Latin for ‘disgrace’ – ‘turpis’. There is also the Latin noun, ‘turpitudo’, meaning ‘disgraceful, shameful act’. I remember a particularly sparky Beginners’ Latin set I once taught. When a pupil announced they had failed to do their prep, one of the girls spun around and said ‘such turpitude’, just after we had played derivatives. Her offering made me smile. ‘Vertiable’ simply means ‘true’ or ‘genuine’ from the Latin for truth, ‘veritas’. Moral comes from ‘mores’ meaning ‘traditions’, ‘morals’ or ‘customs’.


Just one more for today, ‘duplicitous’. This comes from the Latin ‘duplex’, meaning ‘twofold’. But it can also mean ‘two-faced’ which is the rather pejorative meaning that it has in English. Someone guilty of duplicitous behaviour has been two faced. Perhaps they have told someone they like their car, which they have then mocked to someone else.


So, here are a few choice obsolete, but elegant words for you to incorporate into your vocabulary. The next time a friend throws a book on the floor, tell them it was a ‘veritable act of turpitude’.

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