Nefarious morning name

Yesterday’s morning name: the adjective nefarious. From NOAD2:

(typically of an action or activity) wicked or criminal: the nefarious activities of the organized-crime syndicates. ORIGIN early 17th cent.: from Latin nefarius, from nefas, [stem] nefar– ‘[a] wrong’ [that is, ‘something contrary to divine law’] (from ne- ‘not’ + fas ‘divine law’) + -ous.

Two notes on usage, the first having to do with ‘something contrary to divine law’ — directly following from the Latin nefārius (embedded in Church teachings) — the second an ordinary extension of the sense ‘wicked or criminal’ (of an action or activity’).

First, the Latin term (and its translations into vernacular languages) was, and is, applied to a prime example of an activity that is (according to the Church) contrary to divine law: sodomy (oral, or, especially, anal). So we get references to the nefarious sin or nefarious crime of sodomy in texts from early modern Europe and colonial Latin America (in particular, in the 16th century).

Second, as is common with lexical items referring to actions or activities, nefarious has been extended to people engaging in, or inclined to engage in, these activities. A few examples:

suppose a nefarious person were dumping radioactive waste into a nearby [river] or lake… (link)

What might a future be like in which a nefarious person can hack autonomous cars? (link)

During the Second World War and the subsequent Cold War, Hollywood increasingly depicted gay men and women as sadists, psychopaths, and nefarious, anti-social villains. (link)

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: