With the largest vocabulary of any language, in English we have a word to describe almost everything. And when we can't find one, we're happy to borrow from another language (from German: schadenfreude, pleasure at others' misfortune), or just make one up (petrichor, the pleasant smell of rain after a dry spell).
Having said that, let's not gloat over how many words we have. English's poverty shows in many places, for example, when it comes to words to describe relations. How useful is it to introduce the woman with you as your sister-in-law when the term could mean any number of things?
This week we visit a few terms that make one say, "I didn't know there was a word for it!" We start with:
Feigning disinterest in something while actually desiring it.
[From Greek akkismos (coyness or affectation).]
If you've ever uttered something resembling any of these expressions, you've practiced the fine art of accismus: "Oh, you shouldn't have done it." or "Thank you, but I'm not worthy of such an honor."
Accismus is showing disinterest in something while secretly wanting it. It's a form of irony where one pretends indifference and refuses something while actually wanting it. In Aesop's fable, the fox pretends he doesn't care for the grapes. Caesar, in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, is reported as not accepting the crown.
The cry of a newborn.
[From Latin vagire (to wail).]
A newborn child's cry is called vagitus. Babies' cries have been heard even before their births. It's rare but vagitus uterinus has been observed on occasions when the membranes rupture, allowing air to enter the uterine cavity.
1. Boldness of speech.
2. The practice of asking forgiveness before speaking in this manner.
[From New Latin, from Greek, from para- (beyond) + rhesis (speech).]
From political leaders to business heads, very few like to face the truth. Some claim to want candor but follow the dictum of filmmaker Samuel Goldwyn who said, "I want everybody to tell me the truth, even if it costs them their jobs."
If you're not entirely sure about your boss, we recommend starting with parrhesia (sense 2), before giving in to parrhesia (sense 1). Preface your opinion of how pin-headed your supervisor's idea is, with:
With all due respect...
If I may be so bold...
A full period of a day and night: 24 hours.
[From Greek, a combination of nykt- (night) and hemera (day).]
Ever wondered why day and night were divided into 12 hours? The number 12 is not as random as it sounds. There are 12 moons in a year. The number 12 is easy to divide into halves, thirds, and quarters. Also, some cultures counted in base 12: three joints on each finger (thumb as the counter).
Aren't we glad a nychthemeron isn't divided in metric? Who wants to sleep 30 hours every night?
Volition at its faintest.
[From Latin velle (to wish), ultimately from Indo-European root wel-(to wish, will) which is also the ancestor of well, will, wealth, wallop,gallop, voluptuous, and voluntary.]
Finally, a word to describe a few of those things we can't wait to do: filling out tax forms, for example. Velleity is volition at its weakest. It's a mere wish or inclination, without any accompanying effort. But who could tell just by looking at the word?
So next time you're late in filing your tax return and the tax department sends a reminder, just send them a polite letter vouching for your velleity. The taxman will think the check (or cheque, as our Canadian grammar guru Carolanne Reynolds would write) is coming soon and you've been completely forthright.