A solecist is not a soloist

Today’s musing starts out with another one of those words that I see just frequently enough to think I should remember what it means, but not frequently enough to actually remember: solecism. My brain tries to make it mean something related to the sun (like solar), or to aloneness (solo, solitude), but I know as I look at it that it’s in some other category altogether.

It turns out that it’s a word that takes its meaning from the characteristic speech of a group of people, and that the noun is derived from that place name. In Solo, a city in the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, they spoke “a corrupt form of Attic Greek,” according to the dictionary.com Unabridged. (We’ll leave for another day the concept of what is “corruption” versus “dialect” versus “new language evolving.”) Thus soloikismos came to mean “incorrect speech” in Greek, passing to Latin in the similar form soloecismus, and in the late 16th century to English as our current word solecism. It has broadened its meaning, encompassing now not only “a nonstandard or ungrammatical usage,” but also “a breach of good manners” and “any error, impropriety, or inconsistency.”¹

Interestingly, one of the other words I can’t remember (or couldn’t, until I did a blog post about it!) also comes from an ancient place name and refers to the characteristic speech of the people of that area. You can read about laconic here.

And, in a three-for-one, it so happens that today’s Word of the Day also spoke of a place-name speech characteric. That word, gasconade (used as either noun or verb), means “boastful talk” or “to boast extravagantly.” The word, first recorded in English in the early 18th century, comes to us from the French gasconadde, from gasconner (to boast), after Gascon, a native of the Gascony region in France. This one I think I can remember, because it makes me think of gasbag, even though they have no etymological link.

So to summarize:
solecism—ungrammatical usage
gasconade—to boast, or boastful talk

Can you think of any words derived from some characteristic of the people someplace in the U.S.?
¹ all dictionary.com


About Verla

Wordfreak. Retired private investigator and Spanish court interpreter. Erstwhile librarian. Texan by birth, cheesehead by upbringing, latina by soul, in New Mexico by choice. Lover of things purple. Passionate participant in the Librivox audiobook recording project. We record books that are in the public domain in the U.S. The recordings are then placed in the public domain themselves.
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