or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Doing Nothing

If I can't find anything interesting to write about, then you know I'm really dragging, because practically everything interests me to some extent. (I've been posting to my other blog, but I just haven't been really jazzed about any words, and I haven't been reading enough to find any top-notch typos or grammatical screw-ups.)

But I did run across the word "reneged" on James Randi's indispensable weekly blog last week, and it's been sitting in a tab in my browser ever since, and I kept meaning to write about it and just couldn't work up the energy, but I finally did.

"Renege" looks a lot like "renegade", doesn't it? They don't seem to have a lot in common at first glance. To renege is to deliberately or accidently fail to do something: the usual sense means to deliberately go back on a promise, but in trick-taking card games, to renege is to fail to follow suit when able, which is where the "accidentally" part comes in. A renegade, on the other hand, isn't someone who fails to do something, but someone who deliberately rejects social mores or a belief system.

It would have been so much fun to have discovered that they come from different words, but they both do stem from the same root: the Latin "re-", an intensifier, plus "negare", "to deny". "Negare" is self-evidently the source of "negate" and "negative" (not to mention "negatory"), plus a few more surprisingly family members. As I superficially mentioned a couple of years ago, "neglect" comes from "negare" plus "legere", "to choose" (the root of "elect"): to neglect something is to elect not to deal with it. The negligée, a woman's lightweight bedroom wear, is what she wears when she's neglected to put on anything more substantial. And, because "otium" is the Latin word for "leisure", "negare" plus "otium" equals "not at leisure": when you're not at leisure, you're at work, which means the transaction of business, which is the very definition of "negotiation".


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