I’VE LIFTED TODAY’S TITLE from Peter and Linda Archer’s assemblage of 500 words and phrases that have found their way into English.
Dr. Linda Archer is a Professor of English at Kean University. Richard is an editor with Adams Media and a writer. “Like a true sophisticate,” they say, “you’d like to toss out casual bon mots to enliven your conversation. You’d like to float through cocktail parties offering your guests crudités and or d’oeuvres, toasting to the prevailing Weltgeist and speculating on who’s having an affaire de coeur…. But first you need to know what these words mean.”
Here are tidbits about several of these words I’ve encountered, including one whose meaning I’ve only vaguely understood. Maybe you’d had similar experiences.
ad hominem (Latin) (ad HOM-ih-nem). Literally, this adjective means “to the man.” In the theory of logic, it describes the faulty argument of attacking a person’s character, not the person’s proposition.
For example, in debating legitimate political discourse, calling the other fellow a mendacious slime-sucker may well be true, but it’s an ad hominem argument because what the other fellow does recreationally is irrelevant to the guy’s political persuasion.
al dente (Italian) (ahl DEN-tay). Literally, “to the tooth,” this describes the consistency of perfectly cooked pasta: not too hard; nor too mushy. A culinary wit defined al dente as when the pasta first sticks to the wall, not bounces off it.
ars gratia artis (Latin) (arz GRAH-tee-ah AR-tiss). “Art for art’s sake” is what Leo roars at the beginning of MGM movies. The Archers also note, “In the nineteenth century, it was a slogan of an artistic movement called the Aesthetics, who believed that art had no inherent value outside its depiction of beauty. Oscar Wilde, a leading Aesthete, remarked, ‘All art is quite useless.’ ”
Gee, then what did people pay him for? Which reminds me of Idealist philosopher Bishop Berkeley’s assertion that a chair’s existence is utterly mind-dependent.
I recall asking my philosophy prof, “Then what gave Berkeley the chair thought in the first place?”
I suspect the prof thought I was half-al-dente
derrière (French) (DEH-ree-AIR). The Archers write of derrière, “Bottom; butt. A French (therefore, much sexier) way to refer to someone’s ass.” They offer as exemplary, “Jennifer Lopez says that her best feature is her DERRIÈRE. She claims she stares at it in the mirror for hours.”
As this citation suggests, the Archers aren’t proverbially dry linguists.
flâneur (French) (fla-NOOR). This word has had multiple appearances here at SimanaitisSays: Perhaps my favorite loafer, stroller, dabbler, dawdler was Blaise Cendrars. In “How Do You Say That in English?”, I cited Rocket Languages calling flâneur “Perhaps one of the most Parisian of all French words…. It refers to the art of leisurely strolling the streets of Paris without any goal or destination simply for the pleasure of soaking up the city’s beauty.”
With the Archers’ book I’m sorta a linguistic flâneur. ds