The Thoughts of a Frumpy Professor

............................................ ............................................ A blog devoted to the ramblings of a small town, middle aged college professor as he experiences life and all its strange variances.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021



(PCS = 3)

I have always enjoyed words.  I was (and still am) a voracious reader.  And, in my reading.... I would read damn near anything.  But, I must admit that by far the "big three" types of works I gravitate towards the most are:

1.  Novels..... I still tend to be especially fond of classic science fiction (but definitely not the IMO nonsensical pseudoscientific "fantasy" fiction), dystopian fiction, detective novels, and psychological novels.  

2.  Biographies.... my collection of Hemingway biographies is the one collection I enjoy the most.  But, I enjoy biographies of most writers, scientists, artists, photographers, and even some historical politicians.  

3.  Textbooks.... of course, biological subjects top this list, but I also read a fairly hefty number of music theory texts, psychology texts, and art and photography texts.  

The word "vomitorium" was introduced to me (and my class) back when I was in very early junior high school by one of my especially creative teachers.  He was the first male school teacher I had experienced. He wrote the word on the board, and I and the other male students (a few girls as well, but not nearly as many) started to chuckle, whisper, and smile about the word.  It hit all the right "gross-out" spots for us boys at that time, for a grand word to use.  

We of course, presumed that it was some sort of device or jar or some such thing in which to collect vomit.  But, after we talked a bit about the presumed definition with the teacher, he had us each look up the word in the dictionary:

vomitorium a passage situated below or behind a tier of seats in an amphitheater or a stadium, through which big crowds can exit rapidly at the end of a performance

Some of the kids in class were disappointed by the above definition, and others really didn't give a damn anyway, so they could not care less. But, I truly found it fascinating and it helped to enrich my pleasure at finding new words because now my appreciation for the etymology of words had grown.  Knowing of the origins of words helps to better understand their meaning and impact.  

I guess, I am telling the above back-story, because of a word I have a tendency to like using.... but the odd aspect of the word's etymology is that there are TWO distinctly different definitions for the word (multiple definitions is not particularly strange).... and (here is the strange part)... both definitions are polar opposites of each other!!!!!  

The word that I really enjoy working into a sentence here and there is "nonplussed".  And here are the following TWO nearly opposite definitions of what the word means:

1.   nonplussed - surprised and confused so much that they are unsure how to react.

Used in a sentence:  "He would be completely nonplussed and embarrassed at the idea."
2.  nonplussed - not disconcerted; unperturbed.
Used in a sentence:  "Even though most would be shocked, Harry was nonplussed about the cacophony surrounding him."
In my reading into this interesting dichotomy of definitions, I believe definition #1 is likely the older, "more original" of the two definitions.  From what I can discern, definition #2 is primarily used in North American English.  But... that both definitions exist and are used... I find fascinating and wonderfully enjoyable.  And, this in itself further belies the critical significance of understanding words within their context.  



Blogger David P. said...

I liked "exsanguinous", basically meaning "bloodless". I've used it to describe music performances I found to be without "soul" or emotion.

Tuesday, 18 May, 2021  
Blogger PipeTobacco said...

I *do* really like the alliterative usage of the word as you have applied it to music performance!!!! Beautiful!

I am so used to using variations of that word in its technical context with specimen preparations that I never really gave much thought to more creative uses.


Tuesday, 18 May, 2021  
Blogger Anvilcloud said...

I first came across the word in an urban geography text by Lewis Mumford. He used it in the second sense, which I read today was a misconception: "a place in which, according to popular misconception, the ancient Romans are supposed to have vomited during feasts to make room for more food."

There is a name for words with opposite meanings. I forget what it is, but some call them Janus Words. Oh, now I see that it is a contronym.

Peruse is an example. It can mean either skim or read carefully. I have used it in the skim sense, but I have read that the other has gained some sort of ascendancy.

Wednesday, 19 May, 2021  
Blogger Ol'Buzzard said...

Like you, I love words. Our readings are quite similar, though I read few biographies. I do enjoy Shakespeare's plays. I have recently picked up 'SIGNATURE SHAKESPEARE' both Hamlet and Macbeth. These books have fantastic laser cutouts on the cover and throughout the books, along with annotations.
the Ol'Buzzard

Wednesday, 19 May, 2021  
Blogger Margaret said...

How very odd. I've spent the past few minutes trying to figure out how I use the word nonplussed, and I THINK it's definition 1. That must make me a strange North American!

Wednesday, 19 May, 2021  
Blogger PipeTobacco said...

I do not think it is strange. In what I wrote, I meant that this second definition appears to only be applied by a subset of the users of the word..... mostly folks in North America. I think people worldwide tend more towards commonly using definition 1.


Wednesday, 19 May, 2021  

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