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IN MY continuing series of Etymology for Today, I offer the word “mendacity,” as practiced regularly by our president. Given that it’s a long word, and perhaps unfamiliar to some, I cite that mendacity simply means lying. Apart from its current employment (the “greatest” employment ever…), the word has an interesting history with some fascinating peripherals.
In all honesty (and what better place to express such?), I was hoping there was some ancient Greek Mendacius who fibbed a lot. Alas, there was no such person, or at least no particular liar recorded as named Mendacius. According to the OED, the origin of mendacity resides in the Latin word mendax, lying, a liar.
Hmm… Could there have been a Roman god Mendax?
Not in my research. Indeed, the Mendax is a gastropod, a tiny sea snail. Gastropods have their stomachs in their feet. Isn’t etymology fun?
Also, Mendax was the moniker that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange used in his youthful hacking. It’s unclear whether this involved a stomach displacement or lack of truthfulness. Assange’s stomach, along with the rest of him, resides in asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. He’s there at least in part after having jumped bail in evasion of a Swedish allegation of assault and rape. All this is not without controversy, as one would expect these days.
Mendacity, a lack of truthfulness, came to mind with recent revelations that our president lied again (some would say inconsequentially just out of habit): “Does anyone know I own a house in Charlottesville…,” he winged it in a press conference questioning, “it’s a winery… I own actually one of the largest wineries in the United States.”
Um…, no, on both counts. According to the Trump Winery website, “Trump Winery is a registered trade name of Eric Trump Wine Manufacturing LLC, which is not owned, managed or affiliated with Donald J. Trump, The Trump Organization or any of their affiliates.”
Nor is Trump Winery one of the largest in the U.S., or even in Virginia.
These wine revelations were leaked [ed: reword?] by two notoriously political sources, Town & Country and Travel + Leisure.
Eat your heart out, Assange. Or is that your stomach?
My earliest encounter of the word “mendacity” was in the 1958 Elizabeth Taylor/Paul Newman flick Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Big Daddy Pollitt, portrayed superbly by folk singer Burl Ives, is surrounded by mendacity, including his family’s hiding the fact that he’s dying of cancer. His alcoholic son Brick, played by Newman, breaks this chain of falsity. But, indeed, the Pollitt family is riddled with mendacity of all sorts.
In fact, I came to realize that the movie itself is less than honest: Not long after seeing it, I read Tennessee Williams’ 1955 play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and discovered Hollywood mendacity.
In the interest of Hays Code censorship, the movie only hints in the broadest terms of Brick’s homosexual relationship with a pal, whose suicide was related to a failed seduction involving Maggie, Brick’s wife and “cat on the hot tin roof.”
Funny how a 1955 play prepares one for political events in 2017. ds