Saturday, November 10, 2012

You’re Late, But I Swear I’m Not Being Rude About It

Certain English words have an inherently nasty sound, often because their multisyllabic, Latin origins give them the ring of a clinical term for something impolite. I’d wager that for this reason, words such as gesticulate, fallaciousmasticate amd testaceous have all been rejected by public speakers in favor of a more wholesome-sounding synonyms. Here’s one that’s new to me, much in the vein of a previous word of the week, the Betty Draper-appropriate iracund.
cunctation (kungk-TAY-shun) — noun: a delay; tardiness.
Can’t you imagine accusing someone of chronic cunctation and getting a more hostile reaction that the word merits? I can. Or is that a memory? It’s hard to say when you’re slapped so hard.

I wonder if the rather unfriendly sound of cunctation has prevented it from becoming a commonly used, easily recognized word. Hell, it lost out to tardiness. The word only sounds worse as you trace it back. It comes from a Latin verb whose infinitive form, unfortunately, is cunctor. The first person single present form, cuncto, can be translated as either “I delay,” “I hesitate” or “I dawdle” but not “I use the word that makes the woman hit me.”

Previous words of the week after the jump.

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