just when you get twenty minutes of real work done, they pull you back in

January 4, 2007

like the title says, i’d just started actually doing the work i’ve been pretending to do all day, when, as is the danger of reading, i stumbled upon our word of the day.

1984. Mintz. Hurban, they were not actualizing some ancient ideal that had lapsed into desuetude.

as you’ve probably guessed, our word of the day is desuetude. Mintz’s work fits the main dictionary definition of “desuetude”: “A discontinuance of the use or practice.” in other words, desuetude is a thousand dollar synonym for disuse. 

but the word also describes the process: “The passing into a state of disuse. ” This is the later definition, not appearing for two centuries after the original. since mintz was referring to the process, shouldn’t he have used this subdefinition? Should he have written, “actualizing the desuetude of the ancient ideal”?

it would seem that Mintz is actually using definition 2: “The condition or state into which anything falls when one ceases to use or practise it; the state of disuse.” This is a minor shade in difference, but arguably an important one. Rather than describing the discontinuance of the practice, it describes the current state of the practice.

Webster’s Law dictionary adds a new twist to the word: “a doctrine holding that a statute may be abrogated because of its long disuse.” This definition is derived from the latin etymology for desuetude. The law definition is interesting in that it stresses the former normative nature of the element falling into disuse. Mintz didn’t have this idea in mind, but its shadings are present in his usage.

mintz’s sentence is certainly correct, however it is possibly redundant as the word already emphasizes the process, and the slight shading gained by focusing on the state is insignificant.

what we’ve really learned is this: big words distract the reader, and really distract bloggers. that being said, i’m sure i’ll reuse it as my word of the day after the next time yesterday’s salad lapses into desuetude, or after failing school causes a desuetude of yesterday’s salad. 

      

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