or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Full Disclosure

I've never read Yann Martel's "The Life of Pi", though it certainly did get a lot of accolades, didn't it? I just haven't read much fiction in the last few years, for no apparent reason. Here's an interview with Martel from The Onion AV Club which gives me some insight into why I might not want to read the book, either. First, he's very long-winded, and second, he said the following:

Hindus who will step into churches and make an offering to a statue of Mary or Joseph, figuring that this might be another avatar of Vishnu. It's not necessarily thought-out, but their instinct is not to disclude, but rather to include.

After reading these two sentences, my first thought was, "'Disclude'? That can't possibly be right. The opposite of 'include' is 'exclude', and the 'dis-' prefix isn't used in the same way as 'ex-', though they share some senses." My second thought was, "Yeah, but English has done some stranger things to words, so I'd better look it up."

The '-clude' root of all three words is from Latin "claudere", "to close; to shut". "Include" therefore means literally "to close in", or to contain. "Exclude" means its opposite: literally, "to shut out". The "dis-" prefix of "disclude"--which is, or at least once was, a valid English word, by the way--doesn't mean what Martel seems to think it means: it means not "out", (though it can mean "apart" or "away from", as in "distend", literally "to stretch away from [the body]"), but in this context "the opposite of", as in "disincline" or "disbelieve".

"Disclude", in fact, is an exceedingly rare word (the OED has but a single citation for it, from 1420, and says it's obsolete) with one meaning in English: it is a precise synonym for "disclose", which does not mean the opposite of "include" but instead means "to reveal; to uncover; to allow to be seen". When you close something in, you hide it from view. When you disclose it, you do the opposite of that: you remove whatever is hiding it, so that it may be seen. The etymology of "disclude" makes this a logical meaning.

The judicious use of an uncommon word can add sparkle to your writing or speech. But to use an uncommon, not to say obsolete, word, and use it incorrectly--well, that's just pretentious.


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