A lexical surprise

Yesterday, a very rare occurrence for me: in non-technical writing for a general audience — specifically, on yesterday’s (1/4/21) New York Times opinion page — a lexical item (one of sufficient currency to appear in the one-volume New Oxford American Dictionary) that I don’t recall ever having experienced before.

The find, in Kara Swisher’s “My Tech Predictions for 2021”:

I have never thought, as many have, that [REDACTED] should have been de-platformed during his term as president. As flagitious as he can be, [REDACTED] has been a legitimate news figure and thus, what he had to say should be aired.

(But Swisher goes on, after January 20th, no more.)

Yes, flagitious.

NOAD on the word:

adj. flagitious:  formal (of a person or their actions) criminal; villainous. ORIGIN late Middle English: from Latin flagitiosus, from flagitium ‘importunity, shameful crime’, from flagitare ‘demand earnestly’.

A clearly useful word in Swisher’s context: a starchy, elevated reference to deep criminality.

A note on Swisher, from Wikipedia:

Kara Anne Swisher [born 12/11/62] is an American journalist. Described by Newsweek as Silicon Valley’s “most powerful tech journalist”, she is an opinion writer for the New York Times, a contributing editor at New York, the host of the podcast Sway, and the co-host of the podcast Pivot.

She is known for her bluntness, with a style I would describe as bracing.


6 Responses to “A lexical surprise”

  1. Livia Polanyi Says:

    Not a deep thinker, our Kara, and hardly a cunning wordsmith. Like me, she’s probably a fan of the links to thesauri that appear when you need a synonym. Unlike me, she is perhaps not really too tuned into word frequency or she would never have used that term, I stumbled over it when I read the article, too. I didn’t even find it pretentious. Just silly.

  2. Livia Polanyi Says:

    At least she didn’t choose to use the word “ facinorous” when she wanted a synonym for “atrocious”

    • Robert Coren Says:

      I think I’ve encountered the word “facinorous” exactly once before, in a Pogo strip from the 1950s; I don’t remember exactly which characters were involved, but some two or three of them had just run through the panel, upsetting a picnic in progress, and one of the annoyed picnickers called after them, “Facinorous runagates!” (I never did get around to looking the word up, but even to my then-child self it was obviously a term of disapprobation.)

      • Robert Southwick Richmond Says:

        I too have a childhood memory of facinora, from the 1950s. While I was a student in a US military dependent high school in Germany, someone gave me a Latin translation of a German comic classic, Wilhelm Busch’s Max und Moritz.

        I still have the book. The cover and title page read “Max et Moritz, puerorum facinora scurriilia septem fabellis” – Max and Moritz, seven tales of these boys’ scurrilous evil deeds. I’ve always meant to look up that word “facinora”, and 67 years later here I am looking it up.

      • Robert Southwick Richmond Says:

        According to OED2, facinorous is pronounced fuh-SINner-us. The Latin word would be fa-KIN-er-a, or in German pronunciation fa-TSIN-er-a.

  3. Robert Southwick Richmond Says:

    Flagitious seems to be a word that lives only in the dictionary – at least I found nothing else in the first six pages Google returned me.

    Kara Swisher brings the late unlamented Spiro T. Agnew (Nixon’s VP) to mind. He was fond of resurrecting words from the dictionary – remember his “tomentose exhibitionists”?

    According to OED2 and Google, it’s pronounced fluh-JISH-us in English, ఫ్లజిశస in Telugu. OED2’s citations suggest the word was always rare, first attested from John Wyclif in 1382. Not in Black’s Law Dictionary. A suggested synonym was ‘heinous’ (pronounced HEY-nus, of course).

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