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The Nature of Words
July 2015

Of late I’ve been pondering words I thought I knew well. The word truculent surprised me with its vehemence. Common usage seems to be as a synonym for obstreperous, which is unruly or clamorous. Obstreperous children come to mind.

The Latin root trux, however, means savage or pitiless. The word came into usage in the early 16th century, and is currently defined as savagely brutal, vitriolic, or belligerent, in light of which obstreperous behavior is much preferred.

As I was hiding generic antihistamine in dog treats the other day, I contemplated the hot pink coloring of the pills and wondered if lurid applied to that color. I found that the word applies to details that are shockingly vivid, but as far as coloring, lurid means wan, pallid.

The word lurid came into use in the 17th century. Its Latin root lūridus means sallow or ghastly; resembling a ghost, pale in coloring. The word ghastly is a good 300 years older than lurid, having come into usage in the mid to late 14th century, from the Middle English gast, afraid, of which another descendant is aghast, struck with shock or filled with horror.

The more we read and write and listen, the more we learn and the less likely we are to be aghast to find lurid homophone errors in our transcripts.

- Laurel Stoddard, CET


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