The Counsel of Trent

writing is thinking

Monday, February 20, 2006

Studies in Words

My very favoritest book on language is C.S. Lewis's _Studies in Words_. I am fortunate to have access via the University to the online edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.

For a limited time, I'd like to receive requests for etymological commentaries on words. Feel free to submit up to three requests. I'll post commentaries in the comments section.


At Thursday, March 02, 2006 12:11:00 PM, Blogger JHP said...

how about specious? i used it the other day in reference to appearance simply, without negative conotation. it made someone very angry. i checked out "" and they said it developed negative meaning around 1400.

have you read "poetic diction", by Owen Barfield? I've just started it, but it comes highly recommended. I'll have to take a look at the Lewis.

At Thursday, March 02, 2006 1:31:00 PM, Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

Hmmm. My understanding of "specious" is not necessarly so bad: something that seems right at first but turns up to be wrong on further examination.

It's not like you charged them with casuistry or something, which is a bit stronger than giveing a specious argument.

Perhaps "specious" has a stronger usage. Still, a specious argument is better than a patently absurd argument!

I'll go look it up now.

At Thursday, March 02, 2006 1:46:00 PM, Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

Comes directly from the Latin "Speciosus" rendered in my Chambers Murray as "showy" "handsome" "beautiful".
This must be based on the verb "specio, specere, spexi, spectus" for "to look at or behold" (from which we get our "specimen" not to mention the obvioius "spectical" "inspect" "suspect" etc).

The OED lists as the primary definiton of specious:

"Fair or pleasing to the eye or sight; beautiful, handsome, lovely; resplendent with beauty."

This usage goes up to quite recently: "1818 HAZLITT Eng. Poets i. (1870) 14 The Greek statues are little else than specious forms."

The extended meaning--your context--comes next: "Having a fair or attractive appearance or character, calculated to make a favourable impression on the mind, but in reality devoid of the qualities apparently possessed.
In certain contexts passing into the sense ‘merely apparent’."

Next comes a further extension and perhaps a more pejoritive tone: "Of language, statements, etc.: Fair, attractive, or plausible, but wanting in genuineness or sincerity."

So perhaps they thought you were questioning their sincerity.

Ah, here's just the application in sense 4: "b. Of reasoning, arguments, etc.: Plausible, apparently sound or convincing, but in reality sophistical or fallacious."

That's not a mean thing to say in most cases.

The following usage is pretty derogatory, but it comes from the addition of another word: "1856 N. Brit. Rev. XXVI. 23 Undoubtedly it is robust good sense which is here brought to bear upon a specious sophism."

The most watered-down version comes 4th: "4. Apparent, as opposed to real."

There's more, but that should suffice.

At Thursday, March 02, 2006 4:34:00 PM, Blogger JHP said...

hey that's fantastic. thanks a lot.


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