Two years of high school Latin during the early 60s have served me reasonably well.
More than half the time I can fake my way through a vocabulary test by recognizing a Latin root lurking somewhere within the word in question. I wonder if Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) had Latin. “Mendacity” was the word du jour a couple days ago when Rep. King praised the new speaker John Boehner for possessing mendacity in exemplary quantities.
“Mendacity” actually sounds fairly benign. Think of all those other wholesome English words that have “mend” in them. There is mend itself and also making amends, something we all need to do now and then. The House of Representatives had just completed reading the entire Constitution (with a couple significant omissions, I gather), including its several amendments. And as a faculty member, I’m often asked to write letters of recommendation. All of which are misleading analogies.
While often outspoken, I hope to be misspoken far less often. Mendacity, it turns out, comes from the Latin “mendaci,” meaning fault, mistake, blemish or error. So Rep. King was hardly paying Speaker Boehner a compliment. With cell phones, digital recorders and the internet ever present in the lives of even ordinary citizens like me, I wonder if Rep. King wishes he had looked before speaking. That blackberry in his pocket would have proved a wise investment.
English is a living language, so malaprops such as “refudiate” and “misunderestimate” may well find their way into common usage–despite the confusion they may cause (though I am a fan of Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness”). But the mangling of perfectly good words tends to grate. We already find bi-annual and semi-annual being used as synonyms. They’re not, and no amount of misuse can make it so.
Language in Agincourt
As soon as I’d chosen Agincourt as the name of my fictional community in Iowa, I knew that it would be mispronounced: “EGG-in-cort.” After all, there’s Desplaines, Illinois, which is purposely mispronounced (if you’re French), and Lima, Ohio, pronounced like the bean, not its namesake city in Peru. For that matter, Peru, Illinois is “PEE-roo.” Houston is “hew-ston” in Texas and “how-ston” in New York City. There’s also a street in Chicago named for Johan Wolfgang von Goethe, but if you want a taxi to take you there, ask for “GO-thee” Street, please.
I need to verify which Congressional District includes Agincourt. Perhaps it’s Rep. King’s.