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June 07, 2011

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The answer to your puzzle, "how these terms of art—literally—came to become terms of disparagement", is, I think, straightforward. Somewhere in the past some semi-illiterate person struggling to describe something, misused the word. His or her peers then in turn misused it too, until it caught on. To look for logic in the development of this new meaning is, I suggest, hopeless.

It comes down to the simple fact that in language the lowest common denominator almost invariably wins, as words are misappropriated by those that don't know and don't care. Thus language changes. For good or worse, who knows?

Gee, John, judgmental much? I suspect you didn't read the Visual Thesaurus column before you wrote your comment. And I'm pretty sure Chaucer's contemporaries were expressing the same declinist sentiment as you are today, only with nonstandardized spelling.

(More on declinism [aka "Kids these days!"] here: http://bit.ly/ibsEm2.)

I don't know what's worse: some semi-illiterate person misusing a word, or some semi-literate person throwing around theories like so many Wiffle Balls.

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