Tuesday, August 25, 2009
heinous--or, how one word leads to another
Yep, I used this one recently. And, yes, I'm pretty sure I used it correctly. I'm even pretty sure I spelled it correctly. Does that mean I know what it really means?
Nope. Not a clue.
Here's my working definition: dastardly, low-handed, beyond the pale.
And here's what it really means:
Extremely wicked; evil and shocking. Flagitious. From the Old French heineaux, which relates to the modern French, haine, or hatred.
Uh-huh, uh-huh. So "hateable". Just what I thought, though I should have guessed that French connection... Wait a minute. Flagitious. Who the heck ever heard of that?
Well, apparently, I did. At least, I did read Edwin Abbott's Flatland at some point, so certainly came across this quote:
All faults or defects, from the slightest misconduct to the most flagitious crime, Pantocyclus attributed to some deviation from perfect Regularity in the bodily figure...
But I must have glided right over it, as is my wont.
Flagitious: Extremely wicked, deeply criminal, shockingly brutal or cruel.
And where does it come from, then? Why, from the Latin flagitare--to demand earnestly or hotly. In this, shall we say, heated aspect, it is related to "flagrant", a word I think we're all much more familiar with, which stems from flagrare , "to blaze, to burn".
Apparently, flagitium was an early Roman form of public humiliation, in which, in the most typical scenario, a debt-collector would gather a crowd around a person or their home and loudly shame them for not paying up.
Sounds a bit brutal itself.
"Flagitious" seems to have largely passed out of our daily speech, but one thing the word kept turning up in the course of my Googling was a girl grindcore band. From Japan.
If you're into that kind of thing, here's a good post about Flagitious Idiosyncracy in the Dilapidation. There's even a link to a download.
Call me naive, but somehow I don't think they researched the debt collecting practices of ancient Rome when it came time to thinking up their name.