The Words of the Week - Apr. 7

Dictionary lookups from religion, publishing, and politics
open faced book with much text blacked out


Censorship has been in the news a good deal lately, as a result of political moves in certain states, as well as from publishers releasing editions of books that have been posthumously revised for reasons of sensitivity.

Judy Blume Slams Gov. DeSantis’ Florida Censorship in Passionate Speech: ‘Teachers Are Under Fire’
— (headline) Variety, 4 Apr. 2023

The backlash was immediate. Salman Rushdie called the edits “absurd censorship” and tweeted that “the Dahl estate should be ashamed.” Philip Pullman told the BBC Radio 4 it would be better to let Dahl’s books go out of print than change them without the author’s consent.
— Alexandra Alter and Elizabeth A. Harris, The New York Times, 3 Apr. 2023

Censorship is “the system or practice of censoring books, movies, or letters,” while censor may be defined as “to suppress or delete as objectionable.” Another word that applies to the removal of material in a book that is judged objectionable is bowdlerize, “to expurgate (something, such as a book) by omitting or modifying parts considered vulgar.” This word comes from the name of Thomas Bowdler, a 19th century physician, who published a heavily edited edition of Shakespeare in 1818, promising that "those words and expressions are omitted which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family." 

‘Mug shot’ & ‘Gag order’

Donald Trump, 45th President of the United States, was arraigned in a Manhattan court last week, and a number of words trended sharply as a result. Among them were mug shot and gag order.

There’s no Trump mug shot, but there’s plenty of Trump mug-shot merch
— (headline) The Washington Post, 5 Apr. 2023

Will Donald Trump face a gag order, and what happens next in his case?
— (headline) BBC News, 5 Apr. 2023

A mug shot is “a photograph of usually a person's head and especially face,” specifically “a police photograph of a suspect's face or profile.” While the word is occasionally found (as above) spelled in hyphenated manner, we enter it as an open compound (with mug & shot as two distinct words). The term is a combination of mug meaning “the face or mouth of a person” and the sense of shot meaning “a single photographic exposure.” These words have been used in such manner since the early 20th century.

In crass circles—(whatever crass circles may be) having your photograph taken is called getting your mug shot.
Wasau Daily Herald (Wausau, WI), 14 Aug. 1933

A gag order is “a judicial ruling barring public disclosure or discussion (as by the press) of information related to a case.” The gag portion of this term comes from the Middle English gaggen (meaning “to strangle”), and has been in use since the early 16th century. Gag order itself does not appear in the written record until the middle of the 19th.

But we cannot agree with those journals of our own political faith which believe that the resuscitated gag order could, under any circumstances, be otherwise than inexpedient and improper. The privilege of writing when abused by soldiers in Mexico, or by editors at home, becomes noxious; but who would, therefore, suppress that privilege?
The North American (Philadelphia, PA), 3 Feb. 1847

‘Passover’ & ‘Seder’

This week also saw the start of Passover, which this year began on the sundown of Wednesday, April 5, and will end on Thursday, April 13.

Ukrainian Jews celebrate Passover with fresh start and new Haggadah
— (headline) The Times of Israel (Jerusalem), 6 Apr. 2023

Passover (also referred to as Pesach) is a Jewish holiday beginning on the 14th of Nisan (the seventh month of the civil year or the first month of the ecclesiastical year in the Jewish calendar) and commemorating the Hebrews' liberation from slavery in Egypt. The name has a literal origin, referring to the exemption of the Israelites from the slaughter of the firstborn in Egypt (Exodus 12:23–27).

Also trending in lookups at this time of year is the word seder, defined as “a Jewish home or community service including a ceremonial dinner held on the first or first and second evenings of the Passover in commemoration of the exodus from Egypt.” A seder dinner has five or six courses (depending on custom), and more than a dozen steps (such as singing, recounting of history), which are all followed in a specific order. The English word is a transliteration of the Hebrew word sēdher, meaning “order.”

‘Maundy Thursday’

In other religious holiday news, Maundy Thursday was looked up considerably more than it is during months which do not contain Easter.

King Charles Puts His Own Spin on Maundy Thursday By Honoring the Windrush Generation
— (headline) Vanity Fair, 6 Apr. 2023

Maundy Thursday is “the Thursday before Easter observed in commemoration of the institution of the Eucharist.” Maundy by itself can mean “a ceremony of washing the feet of the poor on Maundy Thursday,” “alms distributed in connection with the maundy ceremony or on Maundy Thursday,” or “a feast.” Maundy comes from the Latin mandatum (meaning “command, order,” and also the source of the English word mandate), from the words spoken by Jesus to his disciples after washing their feet at the Last Supper: “a new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another.”

Words Worth Knowing: ‘Egrote’

Our word worth knowing this week is egrote, which may be defined as “to pretend to be sick.” We do not enter this word in our dictionary, as it has apparently never seen significant natural use (it exists in a number of 18th century dictionaries, such as Nathan Bailey’s 1721 Universal Etymological English Dictionary, “to feign himself sick”). Obviously there is a use for this word, as millions of people egrote everyday, in order to avoid work, school, or unwelcome social engagements, but in order for it to be entered in our dictionary it must show significant evidence of use in written form. It’s not enough to simply egrote and skip work this coming week; you have to also write about it, and use the correct word.