or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Thursday, August 04, 2005


This sounds like a standard brag but really is the truth: I watch hardly any television. Sometimes I'll channel-surf for a bit, and I watch a few shows regularly, but mostly television is horribly boring and I'd rather do anything else. Plus, if I were really pretending to be virtuous I'd say I was using all the time I was saving by not watching television to end world hunger or write the great Canadian novel or something, and that's not true. I waste as much time as anyone else; I just don't do it in front of the television.

Anyway. I was flicking through the online TV listings earlier this evening and ran across the listing for a show called "The Most Outrageous Live TV Moments 2", which gave me pause for a couple of reasons.

First, I really have no trouble with the evolution of the meanings of words in English. "Outrageous!" used to be and possibly still is an idiomatic term meaning roughly what "far out!" meant in the Sixties and "radical!" meant in the Eighties--that is, "wow!" I think that usage is rather charming. But the TV show's name seems like a more literal employment of the word, and that's where the problem lies; the live TV moments certainly aren't outrageous. They're titillating, mildly shocking, amusing, or distasteful, but they aren't anything that's going to make people rise up and demand that action be taken, which is the natural result of a true outrage. I don't like that sort of watering-down of the language. If anyone thinks I'm splitting hairs, they're probably right, but any real grammar fan is also a hair-splitter; it comes with the territory. (I should also note that I didn't watch the show, and for all I know it had footage of that guy who blew his brains out on camera and maybe some newscaster being attacked and savaged by monkeys while reporting from a safari park. But I've seen shows like that before, and the outrages usually consist of a piece of scenery falling on someone, a reporter muffing a line and then swearing, or a dog sticking its nose in someone's crotch on morning television; nothing, in short, that will prompt the downfall of human civilization.)

Second, "outrage" is one of those words that looks like it has one source when in fact it has another altogether--something you never would have guessed. (It's kind of like "sacrilegious" in this regard.) "Outrage" is clearly related to "rage", and the "out-" prefix comes from...you're so filled with rage that it comes...spilling out, and...well, it's a lot of rage, anyway.

Except that it isn't. "Outrage" has never been near the word "rage", but is in fact a corruption of "outré", the French word that currently means "bizarre or eccentric", and that in turn is a corruption of Latin "ultra", "beyond", as in "beyond the pale". An outrage is something that is so far beyond the pale--one meaning is "an act of unusual viciousness"--that it is revolting to any decent person.

"Rage", by the way--I hope by now I've conditioned any regular readers to want to know this--is from the Latin "rabere", "to be mad", and hey, doesn't that kind of look like "rabies"? You bet it does.

And while I'm at it, the "pale" in "beyond the pale" is exactly the same as the one in "paling", which is to say a fence-post: something that's beyond the pale is outside the boundaries of decent society.

There. I'm done.


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