Fun with Words: Trump and Obstruction

This semi-regular feature, Fun with Words (aka Etymological Adventures), has previously explored the linguistic roots of collusion, a word with which we’re all familiar due to – well, you know: Donald Trump and his constellation of cronies’ shady dealings. Today we’ll briefly explore another once-rarish term that Trump’s thrust into our everyday usage, collusion’s cousin by association: obstruction.

Born from the Latin word, obstructionem, itself the offspring of Ob, Latin for “in front of,” and the verb strurer, for “to pile or build,” the term “obstruction” emerged in English around the 1530s, and translated literally into “building up” or “creating a barrier” – a barrier like a wall, which, as we all know, real estate mogul Trump wants to make literal at the Mexican border.

In the meantime, Trump’s busying himself building a rhetorical wall against justice, a barrier built through lies and coercion, through acts like intervening in the Michael Flynn case; firing James Comey over his refusal to intervene in said case; drafting a faux narrative for Donald Trump Jr. to regurgitate vis a vis his meeting with Russians; Trump’s recent politicized demands that the DOJ investigate the FBI; and let’s not forget the barriers created by Trump’s unsubtle attacks on people involved in these investigations, not least of all against Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whom Trump has tried to influence by warning him not to nose around his personal finances…. All of this and more builds up a wall of lies and obfuscation that is the very definition of obstruction.

Perhaps one day truth, justice and karma will tear down that wall, burying Trump in a mess of his own making.

(For more Fun with Words, click here!)

A Reality Star’s Lie, Cloaked in Violence

Donald Trump and his cable news sock puppet Sean Hannity have been trumpeting the claim that Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russians for election meddling “vindicates” Trump (pictured) and his campaign in the collusion case.

Again, this is not true, but it’s worth noting I think that while the 1640 definition of “vindicate” is “to clear from censure or doubt, by means of demonstration,” the word’s 1620’s root is much more violent, “to avenge or revenge,” according to the Online Etymology Dictionary.

In Trump World, even a claim — or, rather, lie — like “Trump cleared” becomes bloodthirsty and ugly. He and his ilk are incapable of not seeing red. “SAD!”

(For more Fun with Words, aka Etymological Adventures, click here.)

‘Cabin Fever’ Was Coined By A Woman in 1918

No matter what Punxsutawney Phil may say, there are still six weeks of this seemingly eternal winter, and many of us are starting to feel the claustrophobic anxiety colloquially called “cabin fever,” a term that happens to have just turned 100.

Originally association with typhoid fever, the more familiar definition arose with the January 1918 publication of a western-set novel Cabin Fever, about a man named Bud who, feeling suffocated by being a husband and father, leaves his wife and becomes friends with a prospector named Cash. The author? BM Bower, pen name for a woman named Bertha Muzzy Sinclair, who wrote 57 western-themed novels, many of which were best-sellers and 18 of which were made into short and/or feature-length films. But none had the lingual or cultural  impact of “cabin fever.”

The Cincinnati Enquirer defined “cabin fever” as “that irritation and temper, that quarrel-breeding state of mind that comes to those whose lives are too confined and monotonous without action of variety;” and The New York Times noted, “It is the common disease of overwhelming domesticity.” And though Virginia’s Times Dispatch pegged the condition to western life — “There is a certain malady of mind induced by too much monotony: fashionable folk call it ennui, but Westerners call it ‘cabin fever.’” — the term was equally applicable to eastern elite who, shell-shocked by WWI, ensconced themselves in log cabins in places like the Adirondacks and the Poconos. [I write about this briefly in my book: The Log Cabin: An Illustrated History.]

In any event, try to keep your head about you as winter thaws. It’s a ways off, but it will happen… I hope….

[For more Fun with Words, click HERE.]

 

‘Ultra Rich’ In America, 1883-Today

Hundreds of the planet’s richest and glitziest will gather today to kick off the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. That said, this week’s etymological adventure revolves around the term “ultra-rich.”

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‘Appreciate’ Going Up

I noticed after moving from Brooklyn to Atlanta last year that a lot of people around these parts use “I appreciate you” as a synonym for “thank you.” I don’t recall hearing this very often in New York. There was “appreciate it,” but not so much “appreciate you,” so I initially thought this quaint “I appreciate you” affirmation was a southern thing, part of the region’s genteel hospitality, but then a Boston-born, LA-based friend sent me a text asserting “‘preciate chu.”

Dubious abbreviation aside, it made me wonder more about the word “appreciate,” which brings us to this week’s edition of a segment I alternatively call “Word Play” and “Fun with Words,” but which should perhaps be called “Etymological Adventures…”

Anyway, the indispensable Online Etymology Dictionary reports that the English word “appreciate” is traced back to the 1650s, and comes from Late Latin’s appretiatus, which meant “to set a price to,” and was derived from then marriage of then lexemes “ad,” meaning “to,” and “pretium,” meaning price. To appreciate a person therefore came to mean “to raise their value, which is a lovely sentiment indeed, though one that also assumes they had little value in the first place. Hmmm. Maybe it’s not so cute after all…

Camel’s ‘War on Christmas,’ 1937

 

One of the more unnecessary fronts in the culture wars is the debate over “Happy Holidays” v. “Merry Christmas.” Liberals generally prefer the former because it’s inclusive, conservatives generally the latter because it reinforces their notion that the U.S. should be a Christian nation. It’s an absurd debate, and one that exists thanks to a surprising source: Camel cigarettes.

The company introduced the Christmas-themed “happy holidays” into American vernacular via an advertisement way back in 1937. Prior to that the word “holiday” was used solely overseas, initially in religious contexts but eventually in more secular utterances, as in “vacation.” Thanks to the power of tobacco marketing, “holiday” was henceforth synonymous with “Christmas.” It’s funny, though: holiday is essentially “holy day,” so doesn’t this fit well with the pro-Merry Christmas camps’ perspective? Again, it’s an absurd debate…

Anyway, that’s just an FYI that may come in handy one day, holy or otherwise.

For more potentially useful wordplay, click HERE.