That’s the title of a book I was given for my birthday, and a lot of fun it is. Unlike books that list unusual words and simply give definitions, this one makes snide comments about them (“a ridiculous word” is a favorite) and provides suggested uses (“‘Calefacient, anyone?’ you inquire as you pass around the cognac”). But—and I hate to say this—it badly needed fact-checking and editing. When a headword is misspelled, things have come to a pretty pass:

EPHETIC a. Habitually suspending judgment, given to skepticism. Like aporia (q.v.) an exceptionally Superior word. The fact that ephecticism generally engenders ineffectualness should enable you to develop one or two phonically pleasing sentences. Alternatively, cultivate its use in the same sentence as eclectic (wide-ranging in acceptance of doctrines, opinions, etc.).

As you can see from the abstract noun employed in the second sentence, it should be ephectic (a fine word, I must say, deserving of better citations than the anodyne ones provided by the OED: 1693 Urquhart, “The Schools of the Pyrronian.. Sceptick, and Ephectick Sects”; 1883 Saintsbury, “Montaigne’s attitude was ephectic”). Also, the definition of codger as ‘mean old fellow’ is simply wrong for normal use; the OED classifies the sense ‘mean, stingy, or miserly (old) fellow’ as dialectal (1880 W. Cornwall Glossary, “Codger, cadger, a tramp; a mean pedlar; a term of contempt”) and gives the primary definition as ‘an elderly man, usually with a grotesque or whimsical implication… In more general application: Fellow, chap.’ Ah well, let it serve as a reminder that one should always get a second opinion.


  1. a many sided mirror says

    Hey, I am sorry for the unrelated comment: but having not even the $5 dollars to start a metafilter account, you should (hopefully you’d be so inclined) post this to metafilter:
    A few days ago I stumbled across a couple articles mentioning TheFacebook, and a little start-up capital they happened to get in the sum of $13 million. The number intrigued me, so I did a little more research, a little more stumbling, and found something that even I still have a hard time accepting. So, here’s what I came up with:

  2. a many sided mirror says

    Oh, but here’s my contribution to the sophisticated lexicon: waylaid. As in, I was waylaid by her erupting laughter. Or the person whose in need of glasses, who turns to find a stack of books piled about them; literally they’re waylaid by their books.

  3. The reference to Urquhart reminds me that my very favourite French philosopher, Trouillogan, was of the “Ephectic and Pyrrhonian” persuasion:
    “As this discourse was ended, Pantagruel said to the philosopher Trouillogan, Our loyal, honest, true, and trusty friend, the lamp from hand to hand is come to you. It falleth to your turn to give an answer: Should Panurge, pray you, marry, yea or no? He should do both, quoth Trouillogan. What say you? asked Panurge. That which you have heard, answered Trouillogan. What have I heard? replied Panurge. That which I have said, replied Trouillogan. Ha, ha, ha! are we come to that pass? quoth Panurge. Let it go nevertheless, I do not value it at a rush, seeing we can make no better of the game. But howsoever tell me, Should I marry or no? Neither the one nor the other, answered Trouillogan. The devil take me, quoth Panurge, if these odd answers do not make me dote, and may he snatch me presently away if I do understand you. Stay awhile until I fasten these spectacles of mine on this left ear, that I may hear you better.”
    Clearly a man ahead of his time.

  4. For what it’s worth, it’s “ephectic” in my Methuen Australia revised edition (1982), so that one probably isn’t the author’s fault. (Unless you have the 1979 edition, that is.)

  5. Interesting. No, I have the 1985 Godine edition, which mentions the Methuen edition on the copyright page but either didn’t take advantage of its corrections or introduced new errors of its own.
    J. Cassian: Excellent quote!

  6. Oh, such obfuscators can be found throughout history. Consider this dialogue from the Thesmophoriazusai of Aristophanes (tr. Edith Hamilton, who really should have given us a full translation of Aristophanes and not just the bits and bobs we get in The Greek Way):

    MNESILOCHUS: Might I, before I’ve lost my mind entirely,
    Be told, where are you taking me, Euripides?

    EURIPIDES: (solemnly) You may not hear the things which presently
    You are to see.

    MNESILOCHUS: What’s that? Say it again.
    I’m not to hear—?

    EURIPIDES: What you shall surely see.

    MNESILOCHUS: And not to see—?

    EURIPIDES: The things you must needs hear.

    MNESILOCHUS: Oh, how you talk. Of course you’re very clever.
    You mean I must not either hear or see?

    EURIPIDES: They two are twain and by their nature diverse
    Each one from other.

    MNESILOCHUS: What’s that—diverse?

    EURIPIDES: Their elemental parts are separate.

    MNESILOCHUS: Oh, what it is to talk to learned people!

    She then compares it to this passage from Princess Ida:

    PRINCESS: Who lectures in the Hall of Arts to-day?

    BLANCHE: I, madam, on Abstract Philosophy.
    There I propose considering, at length,
    Three points – The Is, the Might Be, and the Must.
    Whether the Is, from being actual fact,
    Is more important than the vague Might Be,
    Or the Might Be, from taking wider scope,
    Is for that reason greater than the Is:
    And lastly, how the Is and Might Be stand
    Compared with the inevitable Must!

    PRINCESS: The subject’s deep.

  7. I happened on this ancient thread and was struck by this:

    A few days ago I stumbled across a couple articles mentioning TheFacebook, and a little start-up capital they happened to get in the sum of $13 million.

    The link was dead, so I used the Wayback Machine to retrieve the text, which is certainly piquant considering the developments of the last few years (I’ve elided some tedious details and omitted the footnotes; you can of course click the Wayback link to get them):, created in February of 2004 by 21 year old Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg, is a student social network now active at more than 800 campuses, with more than 2.8 million registered users. [1] Among its features, TheFacebook allows a user to upload a picture of themselves and can include information about their favorite music, books, movies, their address, phone number, e-mail, clubs, jobs, educational history, and even political affiliations. Facebook is extremely popular, attracting on average 80 percent of a school’s undergraduate population. However, there are some questions raised regarding privacy concerns on the site, and when some digging is done to find out who is really behind the site’s management, there are more questions than answers.

    The first venture capital money to come into TheFacebook, $500,000 worth, came from venture capitalist Peter Thiel, founder and former CEO of Paypal. […]

    While the nearly $13 million that came from Accel to fund The Facebook certainly looks suspicious and unfortunately disturbing after reviewing all of this information, the only problem on the surface seems to be the appearance of some incestuous relationships between the Pentagon, the CIA, and these venture capital firms. But this goes further than just the initial appearances. DARPA shot to national fame in 2002 when John Markoff of the New York Times announced the existence of the “Information Awareness Office” (IAO). [8] According to Wikipedia, “the IAO has the stated mission to gather as much information as possible about everyone, in a centralized location, for easy perusal by the United States government, including (though not limited to) Internet activity, credit card purchase histories, airline ticket purchases, car rentals, medical records, educational transcripts, driver’s licenses, utility bills, tax returns, and any other available data.” [9] Protests came from civil libertarians on both the right and the left who saw the IAO as a new Orwellian arm of the United States government. After Congress investigated DARPA’s project, funding was cut off and IAO was essentially dead in the water.

    The Information Awareness Office seems to have survived some of its original purposes in a mutated form, found in today’s Facebook. In fact, one of IAO’s original example technologies included “human network analysis and behavior model building engines,” [10] a surprising echo of the social networking mapping that Facebook does using SVG visualizations. [11] Add that to the information that Facebook collects and compare it to the startlingly similar goal of the IAO. It appears at first glance that DoD, along with the CIA, has managed to circumvent its previous Congressionally established limitations and find corporate sponsorship for its programs, under the thin veil of a useful social network for unwitting college students.

    And those college students continue to log on to TheFacebook, completely unaware of the massive affronts to their privacy. The so-called “Privacy Policy” [12] of Facebook includes a statement saying that they “may share your information with third parties, including responsible companies with which we have a relationship.” It goes on to say that, “We may be required to disclose customer information pursuant to lawful requests, such as subpoenas or court orders, or in compliance with applicable laws. Additionally, we may share account or other information when we believe it is necessary to comply with law or to protect our interests or property. This may include sharing information with other companies, lawyers, agents or government agencies.”

    Some of the aspects of the privacy policy are downright creepy and confusing. This particular gem is especially disturbing: “Thefacebook also collects information about you from other sources, such as newspapers and instant messaging services. This information is gathered regardless of your use of the Web Site.” And there’s no telling when the privacy policy may change. As of when this was written (July 1, 2005), the policy was effective as of June 28, 2005.

    Who knows where the information they collect about these three million college students, alumni, and professors is going, or what they intend to do with it. The fact that these companies and agencies are all so closely related, and that The Facebook has almost no organizational transparency are all cause for concern. Hopefully we can soon uncover the truth.

    Startling to see that prescient concern spelled out in 2005!

  8. January First-of-May says

    Now I’m wondering whether 2005-LH had followed through and shared it to Metafilter.

    (Though admittedly I doubt that it would’ve helped much even if you did…)

  9. No, what did I care about TheFacebook? Buncha college kids, they’ll move on to some other fad…

  10. Bathrobe says

    The tedious details were actually pretty important, outlining various ties back to the CIA etc.

    In hindsight, the comments were also pretty interesting (maybe actually naïve), given the growth of AI, the emergence of Big Data, and Facebook’s phenomenal growth beyond its college roots:


    don the tin helmets!

    Posted by: tinny at July 7, 2005 11:35 PM


    Such would be a valid criticism if Josh were concocting a conspiracy theory. As it currently exists, and by his own admission if you did more of a cursory reading, it’s more of a conspiracy hypothesis.

    The term is “tinfoil hat,” by the way.


    Posted by: theogon at July 7, 2005 11:43 PM

    Maybe he really means helmets, as in extra-reinforced hats.

    This is good disturbing-information dissemination.

    Keep in mind though that even the most AI-leaning programs that will be collating that deceptively-gathered info will have to have their results processed by human beings. Or what passes for human beings these days.

    They can put cameras in the trees, and microphones in all the cars and tv’s, and have voice-recognition software running 24/7 on a thousand tel-com servers; still, at the end of the day, there has to be a human there, deciding something.

    I’m not saying that makes everything hunky-dory. I’m saying that’s where the problem is, not in the technology. Know your enemy.

    Posted by: Juke Moran at July 9, 2005 02:11 AM


    Juke, I absolutely agree with you on that point. In fact, a little while ago I was thinking it would be pretty nice if someone introduced a non-college based alternative to TheFacebook that had a similar slick design. It’d also be nice to see technology for such sites that allows cross-referencing certain things, such as Audioscrobbler tracks-played, bookmarks, blog posts, etc.

    But of course when the privacy policy is as poorly , or as the case may actually be, so carefully worded as it is, then I have to wonder what the new “owners” of MY information are doing with MY information. I find it incredibly sad how many kids retort that they have nothing to hide. I simply quote Benjamin Franklin back to them: “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

    So you’re right. We have to keep an eye on the “who” in these instances and be sure to distinguish it from the “what.” I love technology, but I don’t love it when people whom I’ve never met and have nothing against use it against me without proper cause, and especially without proper consent.

    Posted by: Josh at July 9, 2005 03:44 AM


    But how exactly is thefacebook able to collect information about you that you don’t enter into their site? There are no credit card transactions on thefacebook, and I highly doubt sensitive purchase information is stored in cookies. That cuts out a lot of information right there.

    Posted by: S.EffecK at July 14, 2005 08:40 AM

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