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A List We Hope You Don't Find Insipid

A List We Hope You Don't Find Insipid


Definition:

not interesting or exciting : dull or boring

Example:

"Our films and literature are awash with insipid female characters, but The Hunger Games's Katniss Everdeen can truly be defined as ass-kicking." - Leah Hyslop, telegraph.co.uk, October 30, 2013

About the Word:

The history of this word is far from insipid. Its Latin ancestor translates very loosely as "without wisdom, good taste, or good sense." That ancestor comes from sapere, which means "to taste," "to have good taste," or "to be wise." Sapere also gave us savor, savant, and sage.

Definition:

sweet or cute in a way that is silly or sentimental

Example:

"Etsy, a community-driven marketplace, for instance, is popular among makers of twee knick-knacks such as crocheted tea cosies." - C. S.-W., Economist.com, April 10, 2013

About the Word:

Just as buddy is believed to be a baby talk alteration of brother, twee is a baby talk alteration of sweet. Although twee is still considered a chiefly British term, it's increasingly popular in American English.

Photo: sukigirl71 / flickr

Definition:

silly or stupid: complacently or inanely foolish

Example:

"Assuming that everyone has parents who could or would bankroll a life in NYC or SF is fatuous." - Kelly Williams Brown, Jezebel.com, July 13, 2013

About the Word:

Long ago, fatuous meant "illusory," after ignis fatuus, the strange light (literally "foolish fire") that sometimes appears at night over marshy ground. The word's Latin root - the fatuus we see in ingis fatuus - is also behind the word infatuate, which once meant "to make foolish," but which now usually means "to inspire with foolish love or admiration."

Definition:

pretending to be morally better than other people

Example:

"If you grumble about [Gwyneth] Paltrow's sanctimonious eating habits, take a closer look at your own health." - Kat Ascharya, mobiledia.com, September 9, 2013

About the Word:

Sanctimonious once meant "possessing sanctity; holy, sacred." The genuinely holy aspect faded, and William Shakespeare is credited with first using sanctimonious to mean "hypocritically pious or devout."

Definition:

having or showing a lack of intelligence or serious thought : lacking meaning, importance, or substance

Example:

"Through booms and busts, profits and losses, the vacuous jargon and happy euphemisms of the business world endure." - David Gillen and Will Storey, New York Times, October 24, 2013

About the Word:

Although the word's Latin ancestor, vacuus, means "empty," it has enriched our language: it gave us not only vacuous but also vacuum and evacuate.

Definition:

revealing or marked by a smug, ingratiating, and false earnestness or spirituality

Example:

"On his way to the batting cage Friday afternoon, [Alex] Rodriguez reverentially tapped the Joe DiMaggio sign - 'I want to thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee' - with his hand. He looked carefree, but who knows what such an unctuous person really feels?" - Tyler Kepner, New York Times, August 9, 2013

About the Word:

Unction can mean "anointment" or it can name something used to anoint, such as a soothing or lubricating oil. That idea of oiliness led to unctuous, which can describe the slickness of false sincerity.

Definition:

having or showing a complete lack of courage : very cowardly

Example:

"Interesting word, 'political': when used to describe what a politician does, it smacks of craven expedience, but apply it to a pop song and it sounds hip and forceful." - Rollo Romig, The New Yorker, July 22, 2013

About the Word:

One of the earliest appearances of craven is in the phrase to cry craven, used to acknowledge defeat. The word probably comes from the Latin crepare, meaning "crack, creak, break," a root it shares with crevice.

Definition:

weak and afraid of danger

Example:

"Iran hawks should not view sanctions as a pusillanimous cop-out." - Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz, New York Times, November 19, 2011

About the Word:

This odd-looking word has ancestry in the Latin pusillus ("very small") plus animus ("soul, mind, spirit").

It's been used by such notables as Ralph Waldo Emerson ("It is a pusillanimous desertion of our work to gaze after our neighbours"), and the disgraced Vice-President Spiro Agnew, who called journalists "pusillanimous pussyfooters."

Definition:

difficult to control and often noisy

Example:

"All this obstreperous behavior on the part of Senator Cruz and his allies is upsetting to the Washington establishment on both sides of the aisle." - Don Todd, Forbes.com, October 13, 2013

About the Word:

"Unruly or aggressive noisiness" can be a hallmark of obstreperous; the word has an ancestor in the Latin strepere, meaning "to make noise." Strepere also turns up in the etymologies of the unusual terms strepitant and strepitous, both meaning "clamorous; noisy; boisterous."

obtuse

Definition:

stupid or unintelligent : not able to think clearly or to understand what is obvious or simple

Example:

"We are - or so we like to tell ourselves - a nation of animal lovers. And like most lovers, it turns out that we are perennially obtuse and perpetually baffled by what the objects of our affection are trying to tell us." - Lucy Mangan, TheGuardian.com, November 3, 2013

About the Word:

Obtuse has an ancestor in the Latin obtusus, meaning "blunt; dull." In addition to the "lacking sharpness" sense of obtuse, there is the mathematical obtuse (e.g. an obtuse angle measures between 90 and 180 degrees) and the medical obtuse ("not sharp or acute," as in an obtuse pain).




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