One of those words I used recently without really knowing what the heck I was saying. Sure, I probably use it more or less accurately in a sentence. "There was the usual cant about tolerance," for instance. I think I could easily substitute "claptrap" for "cant" in any sentence I would use it in, but it probably means something more like a rote answer or the party line. However, perhaps its definition and origins will prove more complicated...
So I'm pretty on the mark with this one. Princeton's wordnetweb has it as "buzzword: stock phrases that have become nonsense through endless repetition". It apparently often shows up in the context of religion or morality, where doubtless there are more platitudes than in many bodies of knowledge. I was interested to find a secondary meaning--well, there are many meanings of cant that have nothing to do with this definition, actually, but not all are to the point here-- that of "slang" or "argot", or specialized language intelligible only to those in a closed society. My particular interest comes from a post on argot and related words that I did some time ago and that I had to look up just to make sure I hadn't already covered this. (It's going to happen sometime here, and when it does, it will be deeply discouraging.) "Cant" should have been included in that post, but was not.
I wondered as I contemplated this word if it was related to "chant", and apparently it is. "Cant" comes from the Anglo-Norman, where it meant "singing" or "song". My guess is that our current usage of "cant" stems from the sing-song nature of droned phrases that no one is really listening to anymore--not even the speakers themselves.
Friday's Forgotten Books, April 28, 2017 - You can find the links right here. Stay tuned here for an interview with Dana King coming up at 10:00 AM
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