Weird Words

Weird Words: Emoluments

Perhaps we should call this “ask the etymologist”…

Emolument comes to us by way of Latin – specifically, ēmŏlŭmentum literally means “something that is produced from work”. Different forms of the Latin word “emolument” meant striving for success and achieving success, but it also referred to profits, gains, or benefits. “Emolument” can be dissected into a couple of word roots to help us remember the meaning of “emolument”.

“Ex-“ or “E-“ means “out/out of” in both Greek and Latin. Think of organ removal surgeries – an appendectomy is when an appendix is taken out, likewise a hysterectomy is when one’s uterus is removed. Alternatively, some Christians believe in creation “ex nihilo”, God’s creation of the universe “out of nothing”.

“Melere” means “to grind” in Latin. This word root has a fine and storied history, older by far than Latin, going all the way back to Proto-Indo-European. Think of all the words we have that come from this today! Our grinding teeth are called “molars”, certain hammer-related crushing tools are called “mauls”, a “miller” crushes things in a “mill” and the resultant “meal” is what has been crushed.

So, if we mash those two word roots together ex-melere → e-melere emolument would roughly translate as “the outcome of grinding” (money, if you’re the miller).

This word appears prominently in the Foreign Emoluments Clause in the U.S. Constitution. This clause was put in place to limit the amount of governmental corruption, particularly by outside money… A worthy goal, if hard to achieve.

The idea is that we don’t want our officials, either elected or appointed, using their positions to achieve personal gain. Most organizations, whether community, state, or national-level have safeguards to prevent emoluments. One doesn’t want an employee giving preferential treatment to certain people because of secret bargains. It’s also a common word to see in Nepotism laws.

Community, Weird Words

Sharing the definition of Impeccable for the County Clerk

A January 13 article in the Tobacco Valley News described how a box of ballots was left behind on November 3 and counted days later.  The Western News in Libby brought the matter to light on January 5.  The kudos and praise belong to our local press – blunders such as this need to be brought to the light of day.  The article described how the ballots were counted late – and the TV News quoted Robin Benson, county clerk and recorder: “I still think that the election staff, Chris, did an impeccable and amazing job . . .”

The Cambridge English Dictionary shares the definition of impeccable: perfect, with no problems or bad parts.   What was it the guy in the Princess Bride said?  “You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”  Of course, she may have thought impeccable was a relative term, and been using Georgia standards.  Transparency doesn’t call for the media announcing the error and the correction.

Another TV News quote from Josh Letcher described the former election administrator.  “He did great things.  He put his heart into it.”  It is good to know that Nelson‘s heart is in the right place – but it would be more reassuring had his head been in the right place.  It’s a bit harder to sneer at Georgia when this happens here.  Again, high praise to the media for bringing this to light.

Weird Words

Weird Words: Pontificate

Pontificate, verb: “to speak or express your opinion about something in a way that shows that you think you are always right” (Merriam Webster’s definition for those learning english)

The more formal definition they offer is:

to speak or express opinions in a pompous or dogmatic way”

Merriam Webster

Synonyms include expound, moralize, lecture and preach. This is rather appropriate since the noun form of pontificate is the duration of time for which a pope serves as, well, pope. It originally comes from Latin, specifically from Pontifex, which was the title of a Roman high priest. The word probably meant something along the lines of bridge-maker or path-maker.

Regardless, pontificate used as a verb today has a negative connotation. While it might be appropriate to describe a priest as pontificating, it’s not something to say if you have a favorable opinion of the sermon.

Pontificate is a nice, all around good word for describing anyone that talks as if from a position of authority. With a synonym of expound, it also tends to imply being long winded.

Anyone with the need to preach or moralize, at length, about a topic, can be said to be pontificate. Heard anyone pontificating lately?