Wednesday, February 25, 2009


In a recent comment here, Peter Rozovsky suggested that maybe my percentage of right guesses were higher than they should be for one who claims the ignorance that I do. However, I must say that since a large percentage of the words I post here are actually ones that I've used recently in a sentence, my accuracy probably should be about 90 percent. Which, I am very much afraid it isn't.

Here's an example. On another blog, I used the term "temporizing force", meaning something like calming, soothing, ameliorating. Or diplomatic. After the post, though, I found myself wondering. "Temporizing? Isn't that really something more like equivocating?" My doubts about my use of words so often spring up long after there is any hope of correcting them. So what does 'temporize' really mean? I'm sure that like me, you are waiting with bated breath...

According to the Free Dictionary, 'temporize' means 'To act evasively in order to gain time, avoid argument, or postpone a decision'. It can also mean 'To engage in discussions or negotiations, especially so as to achieve a compromise or gain time.'

So, though I certainly did not mean to accuse the commenter of acting evasively, I think that I was at least on track with this one. In this case, I was suggesting that the commenter might be the one to show the way to compromise, or to avoid argument. But the other more ambivalent idea is in the word too. Evasiveness seems to be somewhat central to its theme. But its roots in Old French and from thence back to Medieval Latin really are only about passing one's time, without reference to schemes and manipulations of it.


  1. I stand by my accusation. You got it right eventually.

    Perhaps you intended to use "tempering force" the first time or at least were influenced by its meaning. And I'm not just temporizing. I mean that.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  2. I got confused with 'temper' and only later realized the connection with 'temporal' - pushing back in time.

  3. Peter,

    In retrospect, I think I was trying to make a verb out of 'temperate'. I am still not sure if there is actually a verb that describes the action I meant.

    Yes, I got it right eventually. By looking it up.


    It's interesting that temper and tempo are so close in sound. I think I will have to do a subsequent post on one of the 'temper' words soon, and see if the root is the same. Unless I temporize...

  4. Temper is "probably akin" to tempus, according to my desk dictionary, and tempus is the source of tempo.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    “Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”

  5. Yes, they pretty much have to be related. I still don't exactly understand why. Although to 'temper' something would seem to mean to use time as a kind of softening agent on it.

  6. 'temporize' means 'To act evasively in order to gain time, avoid argument, or postpone a decision'

    Seanag, as usual, great post. Based on the above, I'm wondering how exactly the word "extemporize" came to mean what it does. There's somewhat of a connection between the two words, but only somewhat.

    Or, maybe I'm just being dense. It is Friday afternoon after all.

  7. Brian,

    It's funny, but I was thinking about that very word myself this morning, and further about the difference and/or connection between 'temper' words and 'tempo' words.

    In fact, I think I'll make it my next post.

    Thanks, as usual, for stopping by.