Saturday, November 20, 2010

“Full of Shit,” But Stated Politely

A fruitful word of the week:
pruniferous (proo-NIF-er-us) — adjective: of a tree or shrub: bearing stone fruits.
The word, which I found on the New York Times’s Daily Lexeme, has fallen out of use, though historically it referred plants that grew plums, cherries, peaches, apricots and other fruit with a single, hard pit in the middle. Even the term stone fruit strikes me as strange, though. Despite having grown up in a part of California famous for this sort of produce, I only ever heard people call the thing in the middle a pit. I mean, that’s why the Beverly Hills, 90210 kids hung out at the Peach Pit and not the Peach Stone, right?

I think the word should make a comeback. If that happens with its old, agricultural definition, fine, but I’d personally like to see it become a more polite way to slam people, kind of in the style of how meretricious allows you to insult most women to their face without them realizing. (“Why Diane, you’re looking quite meretricious today!”) Etymologically, the word combines the Latin prunum, “plum,” and a form of the verb ferre, “to carry.” And while that makes sense for plum trees, it sounds a lot like the English idiom full of prunes, which you’d use to describe a person talking nonsense. Actually, that phrase works a lot like another, more popular one, full of shit, which describes a dishonest person. The connection between prunes and shit is well-known enough that I don’t think I need to explain how pruniferous could take on the sense of claptrap, jibber-jabber, and all those other great terms we use for words that don’t mean anything. Example: “Upon close inspection, the candidate’s speech proved to be occasionally misleading and wholly pruniferous.” By which I mean that the candidate is full of shit.

Things I wouldn’t have expected to write when I started this blog: This isn’t the first entry I’ve put up about prunes and plums. Last year, I looked up the history of the prune and plum to figure out which has meant, and whether buying dried plums was any different than buying prunes, and what the connection is between prunes and the verb to prune. (Short answers: More or less the same, not really, and no, even when you’re pruning a prune tree.)

Apparenlty, I am once again Professor Plum.

Previous strange and wonderful words:
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