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April 26, 2018  |  Friday words #118, 2018-04-27  |  3350 hit(s)

This week’s Friday’s Words is coming to you live from Chicago, where I’m attending ACES 2018, the annual conference of the Society for Editing. What do you get when you put 700 editors in a hotel together? A lot of very interesting sessions.

Anyway, this will be a short one. (Finally, you say, ha.) The new-to-me word is nontroversy (non+controversy). The general definition is a “supposed” controversy, i.e., something that’s made out to be a controversy but isn’t actually. I ran across it in a Facebook comment about the word decimate. Some small number of people insist that decimate means to reduce by one-tenth, etc., etc., when in fact the established meaning in English for a long time (like, centuries) is “destroy a great proportion of.” In other words, there’s no controversy about what the word means.

In addition to this general sense, there’s a narrower sense of nontroversy that involves a more overt agenda. As a definition in Urban Dictionary has it, a nontroversy is “created for political gain.” The Snopes.com site has a whole category of nontroversy entries that debunk various theories (a lovely example: “Liberals want to rename Cracker Barrel to Caucasian Barrel”).

Anyway, it seems like a word that can be wielded to good effect.

My etymological insight today is almost too embarrassing to recount, since I think it will have been obvious to people who speak a particular language. Prisoners can be paroled; where did that word come from? Well, parole is the French word for “word” or “speech.” “Word”? Halfway there. A prisoner, (or in wartime, a POW) might be released from custody on their parole d'honneur, or word of honor, not to, you know, do something bad. Already by the 1600s we were using just the word parole (no honneur) in this familiar sense. Related terms: parley, parable.

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