question for safire's column [livid]

Mark_Mandel at DRAGONSYS.COM Mark_Mandel at DRAGONSYS.COM
Tue Aug 1 17:27:29 UTC 2000

A. Murie <sagehen at SLIC.COM> replied to Kathleen Miller's question thus:

My unprofessional guess is that, as with many words, its similarity in
sound to another word has caused it to accrue to itself a new meaning.
While no doubt it once meant deathly pale, its similarity to /vivid/
allowed it to be misconstrued in the expression "livid with anger" as
probably bright red. Now we have "livid sunsets" as a result.

Although this isn't proveable either way, I doubt that similarity to
"vivid" had much to do with it. How often has anyone here actually seen a
person turn bluish-grey with rage? Usually the face turns red. I suspect
that most people encounter the word only in this context, and by inference
attach to it the typical color of an angry ("white") person's face.

IOW (in other words), I'm agreeing with sagehen about misconstrual in the
expression "livid with anger" -- these days maybe more often something like
"He was *livid*!" (which may lead in future, or even already?, to a further
semantic shift referring to emotion rather than color) -- but expressing
doubt about the relevance of the similarity to "vivid".

   Mark A. Mandel : Dragon Systems, a Lernout & Hauspie company
 Mark_Mandel at : Sr. Linguist & Mgr. of Acoustic Data
 320 Nevada St., Newton, MA 02460, USA :
                     (speaking for myself)

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