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.

Monday, February 9, 2009


Yeah--I have no idea what this word means. It came up in a post from Adrian McKinty's blog, and though I feel I should be able to figure it out from context, i.e., 'pusillanimous Italians', in fact I get no help from this. Except it's supposed to be a negative stereotype, I think. Pasta loving? Organ grinding? Chianti swilling?

What I think it means is 'cowardly'. Which is odd, since the word I get it mixed up with is 'pugnacious', which if I'm correct, would be more or less its opposite.

Okay--let's see.

Hey, I was right! It does mean cowardly. It derives from the Latin
pusillus, meaning weak, and animus, meaning courage.

Looking through the quotes at, I noticed that Jack London had a liking for the word. Best quote:

"Why, you pusillanimous piece of dirt, you'd run with your tail between your legs if I said boo."

That's from Valley of the Moon.

I'm just waiting for the opportunity to say that to someone. Though, being more than slightly pusillanimous myself, it might be better if I tried it on a small child first. Or maybe a youngish dog.