ABSTRUSE TIMES WORDS.

The Nieman Journalism Lab has an interesting report by Zachary M. Seward on the words that NY Times readers look up:

As you may know, highlighting a word or passage on the Times website calls up a question mark that users can click for a definition and other reference material. (Though the feature was recently improved, it remains a mild annoyance for myself and many others who nervously click and highlight text on webpages.) Anyway, it turns out the Times tracks usage of that feature, and yesterday, deputy news editor Philip Corbett, who oversees the Times style manual, offered reporters a fascinating glimpse into the 50 most frequently looked-up words on nytimes.com in 2009. We obtained the memo and accompanying chart, which offer a nice lesson in how news sites can improve their journalism by studying user behavior…
The most confusing to readers, with 7,645 look-ups through May 26, is sui generis, the Latin term roughly meaning “unique” that’s frequently used in legal contexts. The most ironic word is laconic (#4), which means “concise.” The most curious is louche (#3), which means “dubious” or “shady” and, as Corbett observes in his memo, inexplicably found its way into the paper 27 times over 5 months.

Not so inexplicable: Maureen Dowd loves the word. Anyway, a nice glimpse into the world of journalistic lexicography, and you can see the entire list at the link. (Via MetaFilter.)

Comments

  1. mollymooly says:

    This might solve recent Bartleby shortcomings: “Click the question mark and you get a definition from the American Heritage Dictionary.”

  2. Zythophile says:

    I’m not so sure about the definitions of laconic and louche given by the Nieman Journalism Lab: the Concise Oxford says of laconic “using very few words: terse”, which is rather different from “concise”, and of louche it says “disreputable in a rakish or appealing way”, which is rather different from “dubious” or “shady”.

  3. dearieme says:

    We know a louche lounge lizard who lives in Nice – the sunny spot for shady people.

  4. Terse isn’t laconic.

  5. xiaolongnu says:

    Isn’t it true that the word “louche” is also used to describe the pearly or cloudy effect of absinthe mixed with water? If so, the recent outbreak of reportage on the return of absinthe might be responsible for its relatively frequent appearance.

  6. Actually, can anyone explain (convincingly) the difference in English between abstruse, arcane and esoteric (not to mention recondite & obscure)? There’s an explanation in the Oxford Thesaurus that says abstruse is ‘literary’ and recondite is ‘even more literary’ and that arcane has an ‘air of mystery’ — it sounds like bollocks.

  7. jamessal says:

    There’s an explanation in the Oxford Thesaurus that says abstruse is ‘literary’ and recondite is ‘even more literary’ and that arcane has an ‘air of mystery’
    Unfortunately, I have to agree with that. But for more info, here’s the MWDS.

  8. I guess it’s a nice feature – for people who don’t use Opera. It’s pretty annoying to have sitespecific gizmos overrule the browser.

  9. You can agree with it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not bollocks — it’s just too vague to be helpful: how are you supposed to decide whether something’s ‘literary’ or ‘even more literary’? The MWDS, on the other hand, is very specific, so thanks for that; I guess I’ll have to buy it.

  10. jamessal says:

    You can agree with it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not bollocks — it’s just too vague to be helpful:how are you supposed to decide whether something’s ‘literary’ or ‘even more literary’?
    I guess I take “even more literary” to mean “rarer” and “slightly more pompous in everyday conversation.”

  11. marie-lucie says:

    To me (without consulting a dictionary), “arcane” and “esoteric” suggest a form or area of knowledge off the beaten path, especially the occult or the paranormal. “Abstruse” suggests something very difficult to understand, usually because it is not clearly explained or uses some coded language, as with alchemy. For instance, the works of Nostradamus could be called both “arcane” and “abstruse”. “Recondite” suggests that the information comes from very obscure sources, such as a very minor Greek author known only from a reference in an almost as obscure, other minor Greek author.
    “Laconic” and “terse” seem to have very similar meanings, but “laconic” suggests to me a short verbal statement or reply by someone who does not like to talk much while “terse” seems more deliberate, spoken by someone who is irritated at having to speak (eg to answer a stupid question). “Concise” does not seem to have such personal connotations, it is used of expository prose or reference works and means “brief and to the point, without enlarging on details”.
    These are my perceptions based on my reading, but I have not checked in dictionaries. (People can have surprising differences in their understanding of words, even those in everyday use).

  12. jamessal says:

    I guess I’ll have to buy it
    Yeah, it’s all available on GoogleBooks, but it is nice bathroom reading.

  13. marie-lucie says:

    Isn’t it true that the word “louche” is also used to describe the pearly or cloudy effect of absinthe mixed with water?
    I have never seen absinthe, but the pearly or cloudy effect is also that of le pastis, a mix of vermouth and water, very popular in Southern France.
    The original meaning of louche is ‘squint-eyed’, a condition which causes blurred vision, so figuratively it means ‘unclear’, usually with negative connotations like ‘shady’ or ‘fishy’. Still in the visual context, it can apply to a light which does not allow for clear vision, for instance a dark red light in a bar or other “den of iniquity”, or light filtering through a dusty space, as through the single small window in a rarely visited old-fashioned cellar with beaten earth instead of a floor: in literary descriptions of such effects I remember the phrase une clarté louche. It would not be surprising to see the adjective used for the cloudy appearance of some drinks.

  14. Arak also turns cloudy when water is added (the way they traditionally drink it in Jordan). (Not that I would know personally, of course, being a decent bedouin housewife type and not someone who has any personal knowledge of the evils of such beyond-the-pale, un-Koranic activity.)

  15. I agree with m-l about terse, but i think (okay, probably wrongly) of laconic as having some humour, like the jokes on the Wiki entry for ‘Laconic‘.

  16. nice bathroom reading
    I am in fact looking for something for the bathroom; there’s a limit to how long I can carry on reading the MW Concise Dictionary of English Usage in there.

  17. The most intriguing use of the word ‘louche’ that I encountered recently was in Coffee; a Dark History, in which the author Antony Wild says that it is particularly louche of humans to become addicted to an insecticide, which is the purpose of caffeine in the coffee-plant.
    Water also makes anis seco cloudy, which puts one into a pleasantly louche altered state.

  18. scarabaeus says:

    concise- short and precise; terse:- short & abrupt:
    laconic – short, dry and twinge of ‘umor.
    as defined by a clod ‘opper.

  19. John Emerson says:

    “Esoteric” fundamentally means “secret knowledge reserved for the elect”, though it slops over into “specialized and obscure knowledge”. I’m not confident of my differentiation of “arcane” and “abstruse”; “arcane” has a vague air of exoticism and power to me, whereas “abstruse” seems mostly to mean “obscure and difficult knowledge of interest to very few”. For example, expert knowledge of an obsolete unused computer software would be abstruse without being arcane, whereas expert knowledge of an important software with very few applications would be arcane and abstruse both.

  20. What baffles me is: What is “ironic” about “laconic”? Any ideas? Or am I missing the obvious?

  21. marie-lucie says:

    Would the connotation “humour, irony” have crept into “laconic” because of the rhyme with “ironic”? “Laconic” does not seem to be used as much as French “laconique”, which as far as I know does not have this connotation. A person could mean their laconic utterance to be ironic also, but the two meanings are separate.
    iakon: Water also makes anis seco cloudy, which puts one into a pleasantly louche altered state.
    I wonder is anis seco is the same as vermouth, or a similar anise-flavoured alcohol.
    “Louche” in English does not seem to mean the same as in French. To me a mention of un état louche (not a phrase I know) would not refer to something pleasant, to oneself or to observers.

  22. marie-lucie says:

    CORRECTION: I wrongly used the word “vermouth” in my comments above. Vermouth has nothing to do with pastis (it is a very long time since I had either).
    In France if you have a pastis it is mixed with water, so I thought that the word referred only to the mix, but actually the liqueur itself is called pastis, and the mix is also called that by extension since it is the normal way to drink pastis. You can see pictures of mixed and unmixed pastis on Wikipedia. (Note that the final s is always sounded).

  23. janes'_kid says:

    Persons are having so much fun with the comments that I hesitate to break the flow with this; there is a FF add-on such that one can click on almost any word almost anywhere and get a definition. For example if I type “Louche” here or click on it in an above column I get:
    Match: louche and others.
    louche (lūsh) pronunciation
    adj.
    Of questionable taste or morality; decadent: “The rebuilt [Moscow hotel] is home to the flashy, louche Western disco Manhattan Express” (Liesl Schillinger).
    [French, from Old French losche, squint-eyed, feminine of lois, from Latin luscus, blind in one eye.]

  24. What is “ironic” about “laconic”?
    I would suppose because the author of the piece defines “laconic” as “concise”, yet it is on a list of the most looked up words. If something was all that concise, would it need to be looked up? But I would agree with m-l about the meaning of “laconic” as meaning a person who speaks little, or can speak volumes with a few well-chosen words. The writer perhaps does not use these words himself and seems oblivious to their finer shades of meaning.

  25. AJP:
    nice bathroom reading
    I am in fact looking for something for the bathroom;
    May I recommend raisins in the morning cereal? Then you can get out of there in a hurry and do your reading online like everyone else.

  26. marie-lucie: Anis seco is not simply flavoured with anise, it’s a very strong firewater made (I believe) from anise. That is, I thought that the plant was fermented, but now I think that the drink may be a tincture, to use a herbalist term. Anise is a relative of wormwood, the source of absinthe. Ouzo is in the same family of liquors, but only with the flavour, not the drug. I ran across two other liquors in Spain with the same effect, one from Ibiza or Formentera, the other from a valley on the east side of Grand Canary.
    ‘Louche’ has undergone a semantic shift in Engish. ‘Decadent’, as James’_kid points out, is a good synonym. I first ran across it in Norman Douglas’s works. Writing at the beginning of the twentieth century, he applied it to esoteric sexual matters. Perhaps the shift was influenced by the drunken pronunciation of ‘loose’.

  27. marie-lucie says:

    janes’_kid: the flashy, louche Western disco Manhattan Express
    “louche” here suggests to me that there is probably prostitution and/or gambling going on there, even if not openly, or that the disco owners are trying to project that impression to attract thrill-seekers. Is this what comes to the mind of English speakers?
    iakon: thank you for the information on anise liquors. I am not sure how strong raw pastis is, as I have only had it with water, as is the custom in Southern France. But I think “firewater” would be too strong. Were you chasing these liquors all around the Mediterranea and beyond? “a valley on the east side of Grand Canary”, that does not sound like the oft-beaten track, although not a place where one might expect a bar louche (eg a watering-hole for sailors as in most port cities).

  28. marie-loucie: I hardly think ‘chasing’ is the right word. Anis seco is available in any drinking establishment or store in Spain. If you google it, you’ll find a number of brands available to order. My favoured brand was Chinchon, which comes from a town of that name east of Madrid. The other two that I mentioned I happened to encounter, and not in their localities of origin.
    As for bars louches, I encountered a few of those when I worked on a couple of deep-sea freighters, and I was certainly glad to leave them behind.

  29. marie-lucie says:

    iakon, I was just kidding, no offence meant.
    I still am not sure of the precise difference between the meanings of louche in the two languages. It is not a word I hear from my English-speaking friends. Would louche bar have the same connotations as bar louche?

  30. “louche” here suggests to me that there is probably prostitution and/or gambling going on there
    I don’t really think of “louche” as an English word and have never run across it before. I certainly don’t read what’s-her-name in the NYT.
    As far as wild bar activities, I would think that any overt sexual activities in a place where that wasn’t expected/advertised would be very quickly squelched by the authorities, and the place would risk getting closed down. Likewise there is a place for gambling and that is regulated–a friend’s son is on a special police detail that makes sure those places abide by the law, so any gambling outside of a few sports pools also would be unlikely. Pickups? Dunno, I suppose it’s pretty easy to find a pickup almost anywhere, so why would a particular bar get a reputation for that, unless it’s different for guys, which I doubt. Maybe there is some private drug use or sales on the premises?

  31. No offence taken, em-el.
    I’ve never heard anyone say the word ‘louche’ myself. And I’ve read it only in the two references I made. As far as use and meaning go, I’m sure much rides on the intent of the user.
    Unless it becomes a cliche.

  32. marie-lucie says:

    Nijma: even if there was no overt illegality in the place, in French louche would suggest that persons involved in illegal activities might meet and make contacts there, even if they did not practice those activities on the spot, so for instance the proprietor might know of fishy or illegal plans or goings-on elsewhere and abet them by not chasing the louche customers away or alerting the police. I think “murky” would be another synonym for the French word.

  33. One of the thousands of hits for louche in the NYT archives is a Safire column where he says it was new to him when he saw it used to describe Fergie (the Duchess, not the Dutchess). Although it’s not an everyday word, this seems a little surprising to me. He also seems to imply that the semantic shift only occurred in English, which I do not believe to be correct.
    Many of the recent uses seem to be associated with a high-style, often European, decadent indecency. So louche decor or louche fashion, as well as people, places or behaviors. I think this is how I’d most expect to see it: with ambiguous opprobrium. On the other hand, there’s presumably no question how Justice Souter felt about the “louche goings-on” described by Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville in his opinion earlier this year.
    Also note in the OED’s quotations (and similar authors) that it was italicized for Thackeray up through Auden, as it was for Henry James. But not in Brideshead Revisited, as not in Leonard Woolf’s autobiography.

  34. Leonard Woolf’s five-volume autobiography, Sowing (1960), Growing (1961), Beginning Again (1964), Downhill All The Way (1967) and The Journey Not The Arrival Matters (1969), is worth reading.

  35. What’s Fergie ‘the Dutchess’?

  36. Never mind, I see I’m just out of it.
    Again.

  37. Leonard Woolf’s five-volume autobiography … is worth reading.
    I got gently used copies at $1 / vol. here not too long ago.

  38. John Emerson says:

    I think of “louche” in English as being in some way a british reference to continental decadence, with hints both of illegality and (perhaps past) elegance, and also hinting that perhaps the individual in question, if of upper-class origin, has irredeemably slipped over the line and isn’t just slumming any more.

  39. marie-lucie says:

    In French I would never apply the word louche to Fergie, the Duchess of York: she is such a straightforward, even blatant person, not prone to lurking in the shadows. On the other hand, the Duchess of Windsor, before her marriage to the former King, might have been considered louche, in spite of her elegance (which has nothing to do with being louche). And the behaviour of the couple, unofficially hobnobbing with Hitler and some of the Nazi top brass, could have been called louche.

  40. marie-lucie says:

    Quote from Ben’s link:

    it is possible, for instance, that those who eschew profligacy and recoil from poverty promulgate sumptuary laws in part because the sight of others, either delighting in the sartorial appurtenances of wealth or remaining sanguine despite louche penury [my italics], makes them doubt the grounds of their own existence.

    I won’t argue with the text but I see that louche here is quite far from the French meaning. In French one can be louche whether rich or poor, since the word carries a value judgment about moral character, not about wealth, but a person truly living in penury is probably honest, not louche.
    Usually the promulgators of sumptuary laws have in mind either to curb exaggerated expenses on luxury items, which drain the public treasury, or to curb the ambition of the lower classes to emulate their “betters” by displaying just as much luxury as they do. Both have been tried, usually without lasting success. But another response is “if you can’t beat’em, join’em”: for example, in 17th century France the lace industry was started in order to compete with Italian lace, on which members of the nobility were spending so much of their money.

  41. jamessal says:

    Another “louche” in The Times:

    The word “raffish” might have been coined for [Henry Fairlie]. In the introduction to BITE THE HAND THAT FEEDS YOU: Essays and Provocations (New Republic/Yale University, $30), an anthology of Fairlie’s writings, the editor, Jeremy McCarter, says that “even in the louche world of Fleet Street, where every vice found a champion, he distinguished himself: he drank; his finances were a crime against responsibility; his charm and darkly handsome looks availed him of endless affairs.” It was more than something of an achievement, then, that the general tenor of his essays was able to sustain such a high moral tone.

    I’m afraid people will take that first sentence literally.

  42. marie-lucie says:

    his charm and darkly handsome looks availed him of endless affairs.
    availed him of …: is this right? I would understand He availed himself of his charm, etc to have endless affairs (= he took advantage of his charm) but I am not sure of the reverse construction.

  43. Ginger Yellow says:

    Louche is, as far as I know, relatively common in British English. It’s regularly used to describe musicians or authors with a reputation for debauchery of various kinds. Certainly it would be very odd indeed for a British equivalent of Safire (someone who fancies himself as a philologist, no less) to have first encountered it in 1996.

  44. Marie-Lucie: You can see pictures of mixed and unmixed pastis on Wikipedia. (Note that the final s is always sounded).
    Certainly my experience in Marseilles (where they make the stuff and drink a fair bit of it) is that the final s is always sounded.
    However, is there any rule of thumb that enables native French speakers to guess when to prounce a final s or not in a proper name? Near here there is a town called Cassis, in which the final s is silent (except in the mouths of visiting Parisians who don’t know any better), and it produces a wine by the same name in which the s is again silent. However, there is also a liquid made from blackcurrants and used by some to disguise the taste of champagne (don’t ask me why, they just do), and that is also written cassis but the s is pronounced. How can one guess?

  45. For some reason the server decide to name me as “de from blackcurrants” is my last posting. No doubt an unnoticed typing error on my part.

  46. marie-lucie says:

    de from blackcurrents: How can one guess? Good question.
    In general, a final s in French words is not sounded, but pastis is not originally a French word but a Provençal one (Provençal being one of the major dialects of Occitan). Former Occitan speakers learned in school that the s is not pronounced at the end of French words, so in the South you hear (or heard) for instance rébus (originally a Latin word, therefore with the s sounded) pronounced locally as rébu, and I think that this is what happened with the town of Cassis in Provence: the locals omit the s through (original) hypercorrection.
    This word happens to look the same as cassis ‘black currants’, also originally a dialectal word, in which the s is usually pronounced. However, in the liqueur known as crème de cassis opinions are divided about whether the s should be sounded or not. This may depend on how familiar the speaker is with the berries from which the liqueur is made, and also on the region. I have not heard about mixing it with champagne, but I don’t think it would be “to disguise the taste of champagne” but perhaps “to dilute the liqueur”, since black currants have a fairly strong taste. Black currant jam is also delicious, although perhaps too strong for some tastes too.
    In my father’s family there was a tradition which we still observe, of getting together on New Year’s Day to have a tiny glass of cassis. The bottle lasts for years as this is the only time of the year we drink it, and the traditional liqueur glasses are really tiny – hardly more than a spoonful. But we still hesitate on the pronunciation.

  47. jamessal says:

    his charm and darkly handsome looks availed him of endless affairs.
    availed him of …: is this right? I would understand He availed himself of his charm, etc to have endless affairs (= he took advantage of his charm) but I am not sure of the reverse construction.

    It looks like he’s confusing the idiom with the normal usage. Not the most careful writer, Hitchens. Good catch, ML!

  48. jamessal says:

    opinions are divided about whether the s should be sounded or not.
    1 part lime juice
    1 part creme de cassis
    4 parts vodka
    Then it really doesn’t matter what you do with the “s.”

  49. marie-lucie says:

    jamessal: his charm … availed him of …
    Thank you for the comment, but how would you put it?

  50. jamessal says:

    Oh, I’d just take out the “of.”

  51. Bathrobe says:

    his charm and darkly handsome looks availed him of endless affairs
    His charm and darkly handsome looks availed him the opportunity for endless affairs…. Does this sound right?

  52. “he availed himself of the opportunity…”

  53. marie-lucie says:

    As I understand it so far: Avail is one of these verbs where the subject and object can be reversed, although not exactly in the same way. Usually it is to avail oneself of (something) ( = to take advantage of (sthg) but sometimes (like here) it must be (something) avails (someone) something else, usually in a negative sentence, as in It availed him nothing (= it didn’t give him any advantage). For instance, one might say of someone His good looks (etc) availed him nothing in his pursuit of fame and fortune. In this second case there is no “of”, which I suspected but was not sure of, and then I didn’t know how to rewrite the sentence. But just removing the “of” seems funny:
    His charm and darkly handsome looks availed him endless affairs (= allowed him to have …)
    so I think Bathrobe’s rewrite sounds better:
    His charm and darkly handsome looks availed him the opportunity for endless affairs….
    which does not mean necessarily that he availed himself of the opportunity … (but in this case, he obviously did).
    (Too bad there is no picture of this darkly handsome but rather louche man in the Wikipedia article)(“louche” referring to his character and habits, not his appearance).

  54. Bathrobe’s rewrite doesn’t sound right to me, but I can’t tell you why. I think it changes the meaning from “take advantage of” to “give” or provide”
    I read the original to mean he seized the opportunity that was available.

  55. jamessal says:

    I think what’s so complicated about it is that “avail us little” is almost a fixed phrase, and we think of “little” as an object, whereas really “us” is the object and “little” is an adverb (i.e., “not at all”). “Avail” means, after all, “to be of use or value to”; thus, literally: “BLANK is of use to us not at all.” That’s what tripped me up, anyway — and, also, I think, why Bathrobe’s suggestions still seems funny: “His charm and darkly handsome looks WERE USEFUL TO him the opportunity for endless affairs.” It would need to be: His charm and darkly handsome looks availed him IN SEDUCING WOMEN — or some other adverbial. Confusing the matter further, “avail of” is an idiom — “to use to one’s advantage” — which isn’t the sum of its parts.

  56. jamessal says:

    “Nothing” would cause the same confusion as “little,” looking like an object but meaning “in no respect or degree.” I hope I haven’t just confused things further.
    Not the most careful writer, Hitchens
    Not the most careful reader, jamessal. That was a quote in Hitchens’s article. (No sic, though.)

  57. jamessal says:

    “avail of” is an idiom
    Sorry again: the idiom is “avail oneself of.”
    Relevant example: “He availed himself of his good looks in seducing the woman.” (I.e., He used his good looks to his advantage in seducing the woman.)
    So neither my first attempt, nor Bathrobe’s, nor the initial quote was felicitous.

  58. I don’t think he could have “availed himself” of good looks. You’ve either got ‘em or you don’t; there’s no choice in the matter. But he could have availed himself of the women throwing themselves at his feet.

  59. I like the way the usually proper m-l envisions the possibility of a photo.

  60. Noetica says:

    Apart from avail oneself of something and other usages, SOED has this at “avail v.“:

    4 v.t. Give (a person) the advantage of; inform, assure, of. US. arch. L18.
    T. JEFFERSON It will rest, therefore, with you, to avail Mr. Barclay of that fund.
    F. TROLLOPE We should have got no invites, you may be availed of that.

    Similarly at W3I and M-W, but without the sense of inform, assure.
    The young people (and newsreaders on Australian ABC radio: tending to be coextensive) have begun to say provide someone something: “The minister has undertaken to provide the troops new uniforms”. No with.
    I think I have detected this in American too. Confirmation?

  61. Noetica says:

    … good looks. You’ve either got ‘em or you don’t; there’s no choice in the matter.
    We can either use them or not, though. Eh, Kranz? ;) Selective deployment.
    Nij, judicious use of got ‘em or don’t, in this discussion of altered usages. Compare “Have you got time for this?” “No I don’t.” [="No I haven't."] Very common now.

  62. Noetica says:

    See also, from OED at “avail, v.“:

    5. esp. to avail oneself of (in Shakes., elliptically, to avail of): a. to benefit oneself or profit by; to take advantage of, turn to account. (With indirect passive, esp. in U.S.)

    The citations for the elliptical use (and indirect passive):

    1861 Emerson Cond. Life 24 Power…must be availed of, and not by any means let off and wasted. 1899 Westm. Gaz. 25 Aug. 4/1 It is now definitely settled that the Admiralty…will avail of the opportunity…for the renewal of the subsidies. 1927 Daily Tel. 30 Aug. 8/6 The wonderful system of drainage is being availed of.

  63. jamessal says:

    Heh. Bryan Garner calls the passive construction “an error,” revising his example — “Where the special lump-sum averaging rule is availed of, there is no $20,000 exclusion allowed” — to a sentence that avoids the word altogether. (And of course he doesn’t explain why.)

  64. James, I have great respect for Garner. I would trust him before OED on a point of current usage. But he is often enough quirky, as all guidemakers are.
    I disagree with him on some matters of punctuation. I do that with all “authorities” in print. At least Garner supports uniform use of the serial comma, which for me is a hurdle requirement.

  65. marie-lucie says:

    avail: it looks like just about any construction will do! We all understand and know how to use available (which I had not thought of linking to avail) but how to use avail itself is something else, except for to no avail. The meaning “inform, assure” is quite new to me.
    Noetica: … provide someone something: “The minister has undertaken to provide the troops new uniforms”. No with.
    I think I have detected this in American too. Confirmation?
    Yes, I don’t read the Australian press but I have noticed this too in the American press, and not just with the verb provide, although I don’t remember other examples. Verbs which belong to a semantic group with give or send are being joined by others which normally take a preposition, so that the syntax is being regularized on the basis of the semantics.

  66. marie-lucie says:

    nijma: I like the way the usually proper m-l envisions the possibility of a photo.
    Can’t I be curious? A lot of people on Wikipedia have photos or portraits, so the lack of one is always disappointing. Many people’s photos are quite different from what one imagined.

  67. David Conrad says:

    The inexplicable part is that Maureen Dowd is still employed by the Times.

  68. Noetica: good looks. You’ve either got ‘em or you don’t; there’s no choice in the matter….Compare “Have you got time for this?” “No I don’t.” [="No I haven't."]
    I was being intentionally rustic. Try flattening out the “You’ve either got ‘em or you don’t” as “you’ve either got ‘em or you don’t got ‘em.” “Don’t got” might not be all that common any more, even among hayseeds.
    I don’t think you can choose to “deploy” good looks any more than you can turn your eye color on and off. It’s just there. Attentiveness works better than cuteness anyhow. Even then you’re not “availing yourself of” or “helping yourself to” anything external.
    The wonderful system of drainage is being availed of.
    Why does that sound so awkward? Isn’t that a preposition at the end of the sentence there?

  69. m-l: Can’t I be curious?
    Let’s see, “His charm and darkly handsome looks availed him endless affairs” …yeah, I’d like to see what that was all about–strictly as an intellectual exercise, of course. Anyhow, I’ve had it with redheads this month. “Darkly handsome” sounds just right. And “availed”…we don’t know that he was promiscuous and actually plucked what might have been available…
    But wait, what’s this? Not my type, I’m afraid, and the suit is a complete deal-breaker. British too. But the one I really can’t understand is Rasputin.

  70. Noetica says:

    I was being intentionally rustic.
    And I, my dear Nijmette, was being intentionally urbane. :)

  71. bruessel says:

    “I have not heard about mixing [crème de cassis] with champagne”.
    Seriously, m-l, you’ve never heard of kir royal?
    Of course, the original cocktail is the kir, where, according to French wiki, the liqueur was indeed added to white wine (Bourgogne Aligoté) to disguise its taste, as it used to be very sour.

  72. Although he looks like a stage version of a cad in that jacket and tie, I liked this quote from Henry Fairlie: “We are now nearing the end of eight years,” Henry wrote, “in which a president who does not really lead by his speeches has been praised for being a ‘great communicator.’ The euphemism is necessary because he does not make speeches. The irony points to the uncomfortable truth that the communications industry — the media — recognized a package of its own manufacture and labeled it Great Communicator.”
    I like the way Hitchens teases by implying his own similarity to Fairlie.

  73. marie-lucie says:

    Nijma: It is always enlightening to see a picture of someone. “Dark” is all I would agree with from the written description.
    AJP: he looks like a stage version of a cad in that jacket and tie
    Absolutely. His expression looks pretty caddish too. The sideburns add to the effect, but they were fashionable in the 70′s when the picture was probably taken.

  74. I am very fond of kir, and used to buy Aligoté and cassis so I could make it properly at home.

  75. …‘great communicator.’ The euphemism is necessary because he does not make speeches.
    What is that supposed to mean? Reagan made all kinds of speeches, some of them surprisingly effective, like in Russia. I’m no Reagan apologist, but is there really any evidence that Reagan, in spite of his concealed illness, did not actually chart his own policies and go way beyond his speechwriters in communicating them?

  76. Nijma: I’m no Reagan apologist
    Come on Nij, we know you kind of liked the Gipper.
    Yes, I like kir as well. I’m not so sure about that kir royale stuff, not that I’ve tried it, but I love the flavour of champagne.

  77. Ewww. But we did have a cat named Bonzo.
    I’m willing to talk about any politician charitably once they’re safely dead.

  78. That’s right. Hitler was great with animals and a terrific fund raiser.

  79. You’re invoking Godwin’s Law over the president who ended the cold war?
    Hitchens is being disingenuous, but then these days political writers seem to be paid to pander to people’s biases. I’ve given up reading anything political anymore–it’s all talking points and axes to grind with little resemblance to real life. I’m not impressed with all his bragging about how he hung around drinking with this louche dude either.
    If you really want to look at the communications industry, go back to the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy presidential debate.

  80. Sorry, the “(Reagan) does not make speeches” quotation was Fairlie, not Hitchens.

  81. I don’t know what the Earl of Wessex has got to do with it, but I certainly don’t think that Reagan “ended the cold war”.

  82. Yeah, I’d have to say the Russians did that.

  83. marie-lucie says:

    Seriously, m-l, you’ve never heard of kir royal?
    Seriously, I have not. I have not lived in France for a long time and make only brief visits with my family there, and none of us drink much alcohol, so my education in these matters does not go beyond the elementary level.
    Fairlie and HItchens
    Today’s Slate has an article about Fairlie’s opinions, and the NYT
    Online has a picture of Hitchens, apparently taken in a bathroom.

  84. Didn’t find the NYT bit, but Vanity Fair has a slideshow of Hitchens smoking a cigarette in a shower, etc., which Slate considers to be “high comedy”. What a waste of time. From here on out, I’m only reading languagehat. (If you want to put those awful Vanity Fair shower photos out of your mind, the more interesting Johnny Depp is on the cover.)

  85. David Marjanović says:

    Depp, of course, being highly interesting from a linguistic point of view, because it means “idiot” where I come from.
    The adjective to it is probably best spelled deppert. So I still admire the TV show host who announced “Professor Wolfgang Deppert” without even blinking, though both of them were from (and in) northern Germany, so they might both have been blissfully ignorant…

  86. marie-lucie says:

    Nijma: I think I got confused about the provenience of the first Hitchens photo, smoking in or near in the shower. I agree that one photo is quite enough!

  87. So much for
    His charm and darkly handsome looks availed him endless affairs.
    If you google the last part, all you come up with someone’s husband suing him. This doesn’t fit the idea of louche so much as “seedy”. I would think louche, being all French-sounding and all, implies some sort of redeeming social quality or something magnetic or complex that keeps you from merely looking away. Of course the quotation isn’t Hitchens or Fairlie, but Jeremy McCarter who is a culture critic, whatever that is (no photo that I could find, so who knows if he fits in with the other two).
    The only thing I have ever seen Johnny
    Depp in was Once upon a time in Mexico, where he plays a CIA agent who runs around in a t-shirt that says CIA on the front of it. His character also has a fake arm that conceals his real arm holding a gun and he kills cooks for making food that is too good. The film was so awful that Depp’s performance was the only fascinating thing about it. Definitely what I think of as a louche character, though, along with maybe some of Graham Green’s characters. Depp said his characterization was based on a real person.

  88. marie-lucie says:

    Nijma: I would think louche, being all French-sounding and all, implies some sort of redeeming social quality or something magnetic or complex that keeps you from merely looking away.
    louche is not just French-sounding, it is an actual French word to which anglophones are apparently attributing positive meanings that it does not have in French. For instance louche in French could be describing someone loitering suspiciously in your vicinity.

  89. it is an actual French word
    Still, as I think someone pointed out somewhere upthread, the word is no longer being used in MSM in italics, which means it’s no longer considered to be a foreign word. But it seems in English the word has picked up a bit of the romance we associate with all things French, and it’s taking on something like the meaning of “raffish”, with some positive and some negative qualities.

    The word “raffish” might have been coined for him. In the introduction to BITE THE HAND THAT FEEDS YOU: Essays and Provocations (New Republic/Yale University, $30), an anthology of Fairlie’s writings, the editor, Jeremy McCarter, says that “even in the louche world of Fleet Street, where every vice found a champion, he distinguished himself:

  90. marie-lucie says:

    Nijma: the louche world of Fleet Street
    This phrase seems strange to me: “Fleet Street” represents the press, and to me “louche” here implies that journalists as such must be corrupt or even possibly associating with criminals, as opposed to the word being a comment on the individual “raffish” behaviour of some of them outside of their profession.

  91. Depp’s performance was the only fascinating thing about it.
    Well, there’s Salma Hayek and Eva Mendes.
    all things French
    There’s something to this. Or maybe European. louche sounds right with (pre- and post- Communist) Berlin and Moscow, but not Bangkok, Rio, or Las Vegas.
    “Fleet Street” represents the press
    I think the lifestyle both in and out of the office is meant. The vision is of hard-drinking old-school (male) tabloid journalists.

  92. My understanding of louche as used in English is that there’s nothing positive to it, that seedy is a good synonym (though perhaps too familiar for some writers’ intended usages, hahah). For some reason the English music magazine Q sticks in my mind as using it often in the mid-90s; a search on their site just gives one result right now, but it’s not a positive usage.

  93. marie-lucie says:

    MMcM: The vision is of hard-drinking old-school (male) tabloid journalists.
    If those journalists were doing a lot of their drinking in bars, that would not be called louche in French as it is done in the open. But if this occurred in America during Prohibition, then they would have to join fellow drinkers in louche places which might have a respectable facade but also a secret backroom or basement where illegal activities going beyond drinking took place (eg where blackmailers might lurk). American films of the 1930′s frequently have scenes occurring in such louche places.
    Louche in French always has an element of unpleasant mystery, of something immoral or illegal concealed but somehow suggested, “giving bad vibes”. This is why I said I would never associate the word with a person such as Fergie, the Duchess of York, who is quite the opposite of louche.
    “Seedy” to me suggests “having seen better days”, so a place that had been louche in the past might now have customers that are too old and tired to participate in louche activities.

  94. I’m not sure “seedy limousine” or “louche novels by an adding-machine heir” works.
    It seems that louche usually has something to do with sex. Or at least that gets an emphasis among the Marxist money, Freudian sex and Nietzschean power triad of the time period when it got nativized.
    In the reportage we’re discussing, seedy might even have an ambiguous positive spin. So maybe what’s going on is that the chosen topics and the personalities of the writers just favor louche and it comes off inherently glamorized.

  95. In England, seedy means slightly ill, as in “he was feeling a bit seedy after last night’s Vanilla & Gin Surprise”.

Speak Your Mind

*