Hard Words #1

Not flinty or harsh words, but difficult words; words I trip on when reading Henry James novels (rebarbitive), sci-fi by Kim Stanley Robinson (piste), and books on economics (limn). Scientific or technical terms are out of bounds.
I’m surprised, being an over-educated native speaker aged 67 years, that I don’t have a better command of the non-technical vocabulary of English. Sometimes it’s words I hear often but ignore – like ‘bespoke’. Now I’m on a hunt for these odd words.

Abnegate: renounce or reject something desired or valuable.
Adumbrate: represent in outline.
Aphorism: a pithy observation that contains a general truth, such as, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Apotheosis: culmination or climax.
Apposite: apt in the circumstances or in relation to something.
Bedizen: dress up or decorate gaudily.
Bespoke: made for a particular customer or user.
Bruxism: involuntary habitual grinding of the teeth, typically during sleep.
Calumny: slander.
Category error: the error of assigning to something a quality or action that can properly be assigned to things only of another category, for example, treating abstract concepts as though they had a physical location.
Dialectic: a discourse between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject but wishing to establish the truth through reasoned arguments.
Dirigisme: state control of economic and social matters. See also ‘barack obama’.
Disingenuous; not candid or sincere, typically by pretending that one knows less about something than one really does.
Emollient: having the quality of softening or soothing the skin.
Epigram: a brief, interesting, memorable, and sometimes surprising or satirical statement. My favorite: “slippery-er than deer guts on a doorknob.”
Epistolary: in the form of letters.
Genotype: the genetic constitution of an individual organism.
Hermetic: airtight, or relating to an ancient occult tradition.
Hermetist: an esoteric tradition.
Incommensurate: out of proportion.
Ligature: a thing used for tying or binding something tightly.
Limn: depict or describe.
Ludic: showing spontaneous and undirected playfulness.
Meme: an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture—often with the aim of conveying a particular phenomenon, theme, or meaning represented by the meme. A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas.
Mimetic: exhibiting mimicry.
Obloquy: verbal abuse.
Obtuse; annoyingly insensitive or slow to understand.
Ontology: a set of concepts and categories in a subject area or domain that shows their properties and the relations between them.
Pathos: a quality that evokes pity.
Phenotype: the composite of the organism’s observable characteristics or traits.
Piste: a ski run of compacted snow.
Proleptic: anticipating.
Rebarbitive: unattractive and objectionable.
Selfsame: exactly the same.
Semiotics: study of signs and symbols.
Stochastic: randomly determined.
Trope: a figurative or metaphorical use of a word or expression.
Vastation: the process of emptying or purifying.
Vouchsafe: give or grant (something) to (someone) in a gracious or condescending manner.

The Bottom Line
I look up definitions, and now ‘bespoke’ no longer mystifies me. I look forward to the day when Lester Holt uses ‘rebarbitive’ when reading the news on NBC; and now, I’m intrigued by etymology. How does one explain a word like ‘ludic’? Now where could ‘ludic’ possibly come from? Answer: it comes from Latin, and French.

The New York Times – A Credible News Source?

If you’re a daily reader of The Seattle Times like I am, you might guess that the two major newspapers in the US are the New York Times and Washington Post. (Actually, not. See the list below.) When the Seattle Times prints a national or international news story the source of the story is usually either the New York Times or Washington Post. They also seem to be the two top liberal-leaning newspapers in the US. But are they, especially the New York Times, reliable news sources?

US newspapers by size

Let me start by quoting Sgt Schultz: “I know nothing”; but I do have an internet connection and I invite you to do a Web search on your own. I find lots of stories alleging lies by the New York Times, including several from reputable, non-partisan sources:

Of course, there are also stories from news sources that I identify as right-leaning:

Finally, there’s an extensive Wikipedia article titled ‘The New York Times controversies’.

I was also interested in comparing what internet search engines return when queried about lies by the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. See this short video on YouTube.

The bottom line
There is reason to question the status of the New York Times as a reliable source of news. I’ve already written about their tendency to ignore the distinction between news and opinion. It’s notable that Washington Post also gets some criticism for being untruthful, and that both of these big papers are recognized as left-leaning in their opinions. The relative lack of accusations against the Wall Street Journal is also notable.