or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Faith No More

Here in the latest New Yorker is a grimly riveting article about childbirth and the many ways in which it can go wrong, by a terrific medical writer, Atul Gawande, whose book Complications is worth reading for many reasons, not least a horrific piece on necrotizing fasciitis. (In the article, Gawande makes note of the myth that the Caesarian section was named after Julius Caesar himself: "The name “Cesarean” section may have arisen from the tale that Caesar was born of his mother, Aurelia, by an abdominal delivery, but historians regard the story as a myth, since Aurelia lived long after his birth." However, as I've noted in the past, it's not Caesar himself who was said to have been born this way, but an ancestor of his.)


I haven't ripped on The Consumerist in a while because they've been very good, but here's a usage I just can't let pass:

It's a shame to see Comcast stoop to such blatant perfidies, especially when there's real reasons to not use Vonage, like ass-hat customer service and near-inability to cancel your account.

In this context, it's obvious that the writer, in common with (I think) quite a few people, think that "perfidy" means "lying". But a perfidy isn't a fib: it's treachery, the deliberate violation of trust.

I know: this is hair-splitting. But writing is all about choosing the right words, and "perfidies" is wrong here. For something to be perfidy, there has to be a relationship with mutual trust which can be violated, and there isn't in the incident in question: it's a telemarketer, with whom there isn't an expectation of trust. (Just the opposite, in fact: anyone who trusts a telemarketer is an idiot, because their sole job is to part you from your money.)

"Perfidy", by the way, is from Latin "fides", "trust": a perfidious act is one that has gone past the boundaries of an established, trusting relationship, destroying it. "Fides" occurs all the time in English, in such words as "fidelity", and of course the clichéd name of man's best friend, Fido.


Blogger Rob Anderson said...

GOD yes, everyone I know says Vonage sucks.

Thursday, October 05, 2006 5:18:00 PM  

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