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Dr. Goodword
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Postby Dr. Goodword » Mon Jan 15, 2007 12:40 am

• sententious •

Pronunciation: sen-ten-chês • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Concise, pithy, short but packed with meaning. 2. Pompous, bombastic, moralizing, especially with the overuse of maxims and aphorisms.

Notes: No, today's word does not mean "full of sentences", though the two words are related. As the Word History will show, the meaning of sentence has changed more than the adjective sententious has. It does have two contrary meanings. Be careful using the first since the second is pejorative and tends to overpower it. The adverb is sententiously and the only noun is sententiousness.

In Play: If you intend this word in the first sense above, it is best to add a clarifying word: "I always appreciate Malcolm's comments because they are so sententious and on point." Without supporting evidence, your listener will assume the pejorative meaning: "I don't mind the boss reminding me to get to work on time but I resent her sententious sermons filled with every adage in the English language."

Word History: Today's Good Word goes back through French to Latin sententiosus "full of meaning or opinion" from sententia "opinion, sentiment, intent". Since opinions are how you feel about things, it comes as no surprise that the origin of sententia is the verb sentire "to feel". Opinions expressed in words, of course, generally come out as sentences. For some reason, the root here, is PIE sent- "head for, make go to", which came to the Germanic languages meaning "send", e.g. German senden and English send. The best opinion of the semantic connection between these two meanings is that opinions and feelings are usually expressed, which means sent to others. It isn't convincing but it is the best we can currently do.
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Postby Perry » Mon Jan 15, 2007 10:03 am

Is this another contranym?
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Sentences and Opnions

Postby Don » Mon Jan 15, 2007 10:34 am


Per Dr. G, the Latin “sententia” means “opinion, sentiment, intent”.

This usage echoes traditional doctrines of logic. Aristotle in De Interpretatione and the Posterior Analytics distinguishes (among other things) assertions, which can be true or false, from (syllogistic) arguments which show the reasons why conclusions are true. Aristotle maintained moreover that assertions’ meanings must be determinate, since vague or ambiguous assertions could not be true-or-false. These Aristotelian notions echo distinctions Plato made in Book V of the Republic (and elsewhere) between opinion (δόξα), which could be true, and knowledge (επιστημη), which – by knowing causes – showed why a belief or opinion was true.

Drawing on these notions, it seems reasonable to say, using Dr. G’s locutions, that Aristotle’s true-or-false sentences express opinions and are packed with meaning (so are not vague or incomplete). (And “sententious” in its non-pejorative sense might refer to the property of full meaning which would, according to these Aristotelian doctrines, be characteristic of proper sentences.) Finally, we might speculate as to reasons for this apparent confluence of logic and etymology: medieval Aristotelian scholars, theorizing in Latin, were for more than a millennium the main custodians of our written language.


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