Simanaitis Says

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BACK IN JANUARY 2018, I examined the word “embarrassed” in my series of Etymologies for our Times. Today, I add the word “appalled.” Indeed, as in “I am Embarrassed,” the word “appalled” suggests a multitude of current examples.

According to Merriam-Webster, the transitive verb “to appall” means “to overcome with consternation, shock, or dismay // We were appalled by his behavior.”

Appearance of the verb “to overcome” is heartening, even though not in the context used here by M-W.

Trump says about rioters: “Thugs.” But no mention of Officer Derek Chavin. Photo by Evan Vucci/AP/Shutterstock (10662313o) from Rolling Stone.

Among synonyms of “to appall” offered by M-W are “to floor,” “to jolt,” “to shake up,” and “to shock.” With various shadings, other related terms are “to daunt,” “to dismay,” or “to horrify.”

Yes, several seem to apply, though I prefer not to be “daunted” by arrogantly know-it-all, buffoonish, ignorant, mendacious, narcissistic trumpery. Being daunted, according to M-W, carries a sense of “cowing, disheartening, or frightening.” As already noted, “We Shall Overcome” comes to mind.

Appall comes to English from Middle English, evolving from Middle French apalir, from Old French, from pallēre, Latin for “to be pale.”

Sort of the opposite of orange-complexioned.

Reuters image from

M-W says people have been appalled about one thing or another since the 14th century. This rich heritage encouraged me to research the word in the Oxford English Dictionary.

The OED gives the choice of one “l” or two, with the meaning of “to wax pale or dim.” Its earliest source from 1393 is from Gower’s Confessions: “Of thought, which in min herte falleth, Whan it in night min hede appalleth.”

Image from The Guardian.

For “appalled,” the OED gives “bereft of courage or self-possession at the sudden recognition of something dreadful.” In 1606, in Troilus and Cressida, Act IV Scene 5, Shakespeare has Agamemnon say to Ajax, “Give with thy trumpet a loud note to Troy… that the appalled air may pierce the head of the great combatant and hale him hither.”

Illustration by Rick McKee from The Mercury News.

The OED also cites Charles Kingsley’s historical novel Hereward The Wake, 1866: “Hereward sat down, silent and appalled.”

I will not be silent. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2020


  1. Bravo!

    • simanaitissays
      June 2, 2020

      Thank you, Tom. In these troubled and complex times, your comment is much appreciated.

  2. Cynthia Bowles
    June 2, 2020

    Thank you. May we all be courageous.

  3. Paul M Everett
    June 3, 2020

    Thank you for your well-researched reflections even as we are appalled, seemingly more so each day.

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