Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Turncoats of Ancient Rome

Though I suppose most Romans generally wore togas a tunics, but turntunic and turntoga don’t really get the point across.
tergiversate (TER-ji-vers-ayt or ter-JI-vers-ayt or TER-gi-vers-ayt or ter-GI-vers-ayt) — verb: 1. to evade, to equivocate using subterfuge, or to deliberately obfuscate. 2. to change sides of affiliation.
It’s perhaps not the most obscure word, as it appears in the even regular, abridged version of Merriam-Webster, but I think it’s a good one to know, especially since I’d imagine smarter-than-thous would use it political articles and you don’t want to erroneously think it means something worse than it already does. That initial “ter” syllable sets it off on the wrong foot, I think, in the style of terse and even rather innocent words like turdiform and turbid.

Tergiversate comes to English from a Latin verb, tergiversari, “to show reluctance,” which in turn comes from tergum, “back,” and a variation of vertere, “to turn.” So regardless of which definition of the word you use, the etymology seems appropriate.

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