Monday, February 7, 2011

Everything Old is New Again
( Vocab. 2011-2)

This spring my reading group plans to focus on classics. In preparation, I've just re-read George Eliot's Middlemarch and Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie.

I've been struck by language and observations that seem so contemporary.

For example, writing in about 1870, Eliot makes a detailed observation on the social reality recently captured in the expression "eating out on." The point is that gossip and similar human events provide us opportunities for socializing.

But perhaps that's not so surprising; human nature is constant. More surprising to me are some of Dreiser's expressions. I was surprised when one of his late 1800's characters says the words "Come on, people." Or uses this expression I'd've sworn was born in the late 1960s: out of sight!

On the other hand, Eliot uses a number of words we don't use anymore. But prehaps we should.


When Eliot refers to 'any trash ... suspected of mean cupidity,' I assume a link of some kind with the word 'Cupid,' the impish Roman god who inspires love or desire. And, in fact, the words 'cupid' and 'cupidity' come from the same Latin root words. Yet, while Cupid has become rather lighthearted symbol of romantic love in our time, the word 'cupidity' has dropped from common use.

In my opinion, it's time to restore this solid synonym for 'greed' or 'avarice': cupidity.


And while we're restoring out of fashion words, I suggest another Eliot find: troublous. Meaning just what you'd expect, it can be a useful alternative to 'troublesome' and 'troubling.'

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