Correcting my limitless lack of knowledge, one post at a time.
Monday, October 18, 2010
It's been in the air of late, right? Maybe it's just me, but election season seems to be a good time to dust the word off and put it out into use again. It means dirty tricks and shady dealings, doesn't it? But it's an odd word and unless it's related to Chicano, which I sincerely hope it isn't, it's origins seem a bit obscure. So what is chicanery and where do I go to learn how to do it?
Okay, it does mean trickery, and comes from the French chicanerie and back to the Middle French chicaner, "to pettifog, to quibble". But this definition brings up the many marvelous words that are synonyms of chicanery, like hanky-panky, jiggery-pokery, legerdemain, skullduggery, and shenanigans.
Chicanery just seems to bring out the poet in everyone.
Through researching this word, I came across the terrific posts for Oxford University Press of etymologist Anatoly Liberman. Although, he is learned and I am not, on our sense of the origins of words I think we would be very sympatico. In his musings on "chicanery" he says:
Although criticizing the OED smacks of blasphemy, I wince every time I see “fanciful” in it. No doubt, language is always at play, but a specialist’s duty consists in deciphering the rules of the game, so that it would perhaps have been better to say: “Origin unknown.” (For what is “fanciful”? An individual coinage? Coinages like boondoggle, Lilliputian, and quark—dozens of them—also have a base. They are not akin to babies’ babbling.)
Precisely. Check out the rest of his article. It's extremely readable and very interesting.