or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Saturday, June 03, 2006

To and Fro

Today we have an interesting word from a Slate.com article about disaster reportage. I find it interesting for two reasons: it isn't used all that much nowadays (it's in a quotation from a 1973 magazine article), and because it's not often seen in the form in which it's used.

Quick comparisons with other earthquakes. Secondly, where is it? Usually in "remote Eastern Turkey" or in the "arid center of Iran." But with luck it will have occurred in marginally more accessible Latin or Central America. Good chance for post facto description. Most of the buildings destroyed; others leaning at crazy angles. Constant flood of refugees. People clawing at rubble. Survivors crawling, blinking into the light of day. Preliminary tremors, then "for six seconds the earth shook." Make sure to get picture of one building standing (usually a church in Roman Catholic countries or a mosque in Muslim ones.) Get interviews from American survivors. Animadvert on general danger of earthquakes, particularly in San Francisco area. Most important of all: get casualty figures and escalate them each day. Remind people that 200,000 people died in the Lisbon earthquake.

"Animadvert" is the word that caught my eye. It's not obsolete--it isn't even obscure--but it doesn't seem to be used much any more, and when it is used it's hardly ever in the form of a verb; we generally (or rather I generally) see it as its noun, "animadversion".

Now, "animadvert" mostly means "to criticize"; more broadly, it means "to report or remark upon", but from its very appearance in English has carried a sense of "...with not much good to say about the matter at hand". (Perhaps it helps that the last half of the noun sounds like "aversion".)

The first half is obviously "anima-", which, in Latin, means variously "soul" or "mind', for the simple reason that they considered the two the same. The second half is obviously composed of "-ad-" plus "-version". This last bit is from the Latin root meaning "to turn", so we would logically think that "animadvert" literally means "to turn one's mind against something", since we're criticizing it. But in fact it means just the opposite: "ad-" means "towards", and so "animadvert" literally means "to turn one's mind to something". All the better, presumably, to rip it to shreds.


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