Monthly Archives: April 2009

Surd is the word

Surd: adjective, meaning senseless or meaningless; a voiceless consonant; an irrational number.

Ever get a word stuck in your head? I’ve been delightfully repeating Surd since I heard it on Monday afternoon. It was instant lingo-love — seriously, say it aloud — it’s wonderful. Plus, as much as I love absurdity, it never occurred to me that the root of that word was surd. But, there are new developments!

I’d like to outright dismiss the irrational number element (the definition I found said “specially one expressed using the √ symbol”), since I don’t really understand mathematics. But part of what’s so cool is that this is one of those rare places where math vocabulary and language vocabulary intersect – Surd also means a voiceless consonant, which is a linguistics term for consonants like p, t, k, s, sh, ch, th (as in thing), that are percussive in nature and don’t require the skills of your larynx. Now, to get super technical, there are a few voiceless consonants that become voiced in certain words. Take skills from two sentences back, which sounds like skillz. S becomes a voiced consonant.

Now, this is exciting for you loyal readers because a while back we learned one of the best words ever, Susurrus. Get this – the etymology of Surd says that though it arrived on the scene around 1571 from the latin word surdus meaning unheard, silent or dull, it’s also possibly related to our onomatopoeic vocab word susurrus.

But that’s not all! Surd also has a regular old meaning, too: senseless or irrational. And there are tons of contexts in which to use to use it in. I can’t quite figure out how absurd could also mean inconsistent with reason or logic or common sense, but I guess the ab- (meaning away from) means absurd isn’t quite nonsense.

Now for an absurd treat (long, but really hilarious):

Categories: etymology, media | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Playful banter.

Persiflage: noun, meaning light teasing or good natured banter.

Hello, internet friends! I’ve been lost in thesis-land, so I hope you’ll excuse my delay in writing. But we’re back with another great, though perhaps mildly antiquated word.

Persiflage is a fancy way of expressing what happens when you’re shootin’ the shit and your repartee turns into friendly teasing — banter that’s delivered  with biting wit while remaining ultimately good natured. Now that the sun is out and patios are brimming with revelers again, persiflage is what you’ll recognize as your basic bar-speak.

It’s a french word from the late 1700s, but its true origin is likely from the collateral form of latin root siblilare, which as I understand it, means to hiss. What’s so interesting about persiflage, though, is the subtle shades of linguistic difference between persiflage, badinage and raillery — all words that are applicable to this arena of light, playful small talk. While persiflage implies slight derision, it’s not necessarily cutting in nature. One shade lighter is badinage, which requires a bit more delicacy. Raillery, perhaps the most sarcastic of the three, involves gentle mocking.

Now here’s the real trick: imagine how much you’ll be made fun of when you’re at the bar with your natty light in hand and you say to your neighbor “oh ho – I do so enjoy engaging in such pleasant persiflage.”

Categories: cartoon, etymology | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at