Simanaitis Says

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TODAY I add the word “deceptive” to my etymological thoughts on useful political descriptors. Recent pronouncements concerning Charlottesville, tax reform, dreamers, not to forget continuing компромат, bring the word “deceptive”and its siblings to mind. Why ever do you suppose?

It’s fun to learn how words have had fascinating lives of their own over the years.

Among various definitions at Merriam-Webster, the familiar one for “to deceive” is “to make someone believe something that is not true.”

Which particular presidential pronouncement shall I choose as example? “America is the highest taxed nation in the world.” “You are witnessing the single biggest WITCH HUNT in American political history.” “What a crowd, what a turnout!”

This last one does not concern Trump’s inauguration. It was reported in the San Antonio Current, August 29, 2017, in response to the president’s visit to Harvey-ravaged Texas.

In fact, while we’re at it, let’s put presidential pronouncements in historical context: “I am not a crook.” “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job.” And “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it.”

It seems presidents are held to lower standards of pronouncement exactitude than the rest of us. Mom, rest her soul, would have recognized each of these statements as a deception, if not outright mendacity.

Returning to Merriam-Webster, I note four other definitions of “deceive,” each termed either archaic or obsolete. For example, in John Milton’s time, one meaning of the word meant “ensnare.”

John Milton, 1608–1674, English poet of Paradise Lost, polemicist, and civil servant during the time of Oliver Cromwell.

Of Eden’s serpent Milton wrote, “… he it was whose guile… deceived the mother of mankind….” Now that’s making deception really great.

Merriam-Webster’s second use of “deceive” as a transitive verb is “to be false to.” In Henry IV Part I, Act 5, Scene 1, Shakespeare has the King say to Lord Worcester, “You have deceived our trust.”

William Shakespeare, 1564–1616, English playwright, poet, actor and theatrical impresario.

Given the vagaries of Elizabethan spelling, God only knows how Shaksper spelled the word “deceived.”. Notice, it’s one of those “I before E, except after C, unless pronounced A as in ‘neighbor’ or ‘sleigh.’ ”

I wonder if Shakspere knew that poem?

Another M-W definition of “deceive” is “to cheat,” as in William Oldys’ use: “deceived me of a good sum of money….” In truth, I had never heard of Oldys, but Google came to my rescue.

William Oldys, 1696–1761, English antiquarian, bibliographer, and poet.

Oldys wrote The Fly, An Anacreontick, which begins “Busy, curious, thirsty Fly,/Gently drink, and drink as I./Freely welcome to my Cup,/Could’st thou sip and sip it up.”

An anacreontic poem, typically celebrating love and wine, is written in the style of the ancient Greek poet Anacreon, c. 582 B.C. – c. 485 B.C. Ain’t Google fun? (And thanks, Andrew, for catching my omitted B.C.s)

Wikipedia describes Oldys as an illegitimate child who grew up to be quite a rake himself: “His habits were irregular, and in 1751 his debts drove him to Fleet Prison…. … a noted antiquary and bibliographer but wholly ignorant of heraldry and known for being ‘rarely sober in the afternoon, never after supper.’ ”

Then again you know how people talk.

Merriam-Webster’s final definition of “to deceive” is also the least pejorative: simply “to while away.” Its example is William Wordsworth’s “These occupations oftentimes deceived the listless hour….”

Sort of like what I’m doing today.

For completeness of earlier etymological fun here at SimanaitisSays, I cite bully pulpit, chaos, demagogue, hypocrisy, idiot, witch hunt, and now deception. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017

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