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Ergo, don’t begrudge words of choice | Moment's Notice


Last updated 10/15/2018 at Noon

“I do not begrudge them the opportunity,” I said during a recent conversation with some friendly colleagues.

“Begrudge?” One answered, not successful in holding back a chuckle. “Are we using old-timey words in this conversation?”

“Begrudge is not old fashioned,” I protested too much. “It is a wonderful word; it means exactly what it means.”

But what does a word mean exactly from year to year, decade to decade, even century to century, especially if it falls out of fashion in day-to-day conversation?

Officially, “begrudge” means to be envious or bitter about someone else’s experience, possession or enjoyment of something. There is no other word that means that as well as it does. Aggrieved, annoyed, resentful … all good words, but no “begrudge.”

Alas (ahem, alas?), “begrudge” lives in the world of archaic or arcane words, as does “alas,” which is really the only word that truly captures a transitional expression of grief, pity or concern. I mean, “ergo” is consequential in the same way, but does not capture that slight feeling of disappointment. And can any term but “ahem” attract attention while indicating disapproval?

Words pass from general use suddenly, and are left behind unless something or someone brings them back and makes them “vogue words” again, as the linguists say.

Many of these arcane expressions – Zoinks! Can you feel the surprise with the hint of fear of the unknown inherent in that exclamation? – have fallen prey to time, progress, and methods of communications. Some have only lost half of themselves … “begrudge” may be less than popular, but people still hold a “grudge.”

Our coworkers are no longer “gruntled,” but are certainly “disgruntled.” “Sidious” … gone, while “insidious” remains a popular adjective. For a while, “couth” disappeared from our lexicon, and “uncouth” catapulted to popularity, but couth has made a comeback.

Other archaic phrases that held on in one form or another for more than 100 years are now collecting dust (they used to “catch” dust). Until World War II, you’d hear people say “that’s sure,” but Baby Boomers transitioned to “that’s for sure.”

I reckon my generation (X) held on to the saying because it worked in various forms, especially when adding “so” or “totally,” but it has taken on a derogatory air with the current generation, either used in a condescending manner to indicate the person who is sure is entirely uninformed or abbreviated as “fo’ sho” (that slang is so 2002).

The other day at brunch (“brunch” itself a word that has spiked in popularity since the rediscovery of a cocktail at breakfast), the waiter brought the check perhaps a tad too quickly, and I entreated him (“entreat” is nearly gone from usage, but is so much clearer than “beg” or “ask “to capture a level of urgency) to allow us more time to dawdle over our coffee to have more time together.

His previously grouchy disposition changed immediately, and he smiled and said, “I would be happy to have you dawdle as long as you like.”

I was relieved to have found an ally in my esteem (that word assesses the merit of its subject better than most) for archaic language. I think he might even agree with my contention that the dwindling use of the semicolon is a calamity.

Ok, perhaps it is more of a bummer.

Author’s note: This past week was such that writing about discoveries in the Harper Dictionary of Contemporary Usage published in 1975 was preferable to understanding the modern usage of words like “collegial,” “bask” or “catastrophe.”


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