a New York Times article about a single word

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Apr 29 14:31:30 UTC 2008

At 9:55 AM -0400 4/29/08, Robert Greenman wrote:
>The Mayor Has a Word for Almost All Occasions
>Bob Greenman
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

Nice piece on "unconscionable" and Mayor
Bloomberg, with reflections by Ben Z and Jesse S.
Jesse at one point is quoted as follows on
semantic bleaching:

Jesse Sheidlower, the editor at large of the
Oxford English Dictionary, said people often use
strong words in a way that softens their meaning
over time. " 'Outrageous' falls into that
category", Mr. Sheidlower said. "Most of the
things you'd call outrageous don't usually cause
rage in the streets. (...)"

Could it be that in this one case the bleaching
results in returning a word to its roots?  After
all, "outrage(ous)" is etymologically unrelated
to "rage", even though the winds of time have
blown it in that direction.  On the other hand,
"outrage" in French, where nobody would connect
it with the (non-existent) "rage", remains pretty
strong; my Larousse glosses it as 'affront ou
offense grave, manquement à une règle morale',
which sounds a lot more serious than your
garden-variety anglophonic outrage.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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