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Dissemble

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Dissemble

Postby Dr. Goodword » Sat Sep 21, 2013 11:11 pm

• dissemble •


Pronunciation: dis-sem-bêl • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: To pretend, to give a false or misleading semblance of something, to mislead, deceive, misguide, or fake.

Notes: Today's Good Word is a more mellifluous substitute for deceive or mislead. It is completely unrelated to disassemble and hence should not be confused with this word. It is a dissembler who dissembles until caught in his or her dissemblance.

In Play: Dissemblance can be simple fakery: "The fact that Cranston dissembled most of his credentials became painfully apparent the first day he took up the duties of his new job." Anything you intentionally disguise is also dissembled: "I cannot dissemble my love of your chocolate torte, Myra. Could I have just one more slice?"

Word History: This lovely old word was captured from Old French dessembler "to be different", a word made up of dis- "not" + sembler "to appear, seem". It comes from the same ultimate source as English resemble, similar, and simulate, the Proto-Indo-European root sem- "one, as one". These three words were borrowed from French, but the same root became, well, same in English, homos "same" in Greek", sam "together" in Sanskrit, and sam "self" in Russian, as in samovar, literally "self-boiler" and samizdat "self-publishing".
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Re: Dissemble

Postby MTC » Sun Sep 22, 2013 12:59 am

The concept (or "referent" as some on this site are wont to say) of dissemblance is far more interesting than the word itself. "Dis" (not) and "sembler" ("appear.") Case closed.

"Dissemblance" as Dr. Goodword defined it is essentially "mimicry," a concept or strategy with widespread application in nature: Moths mimic spiders. Insects mimic twigs. Butterflies mimic wasps. Milk snakes mimic coral snakes. Weeds mimic domestic plants. Predators mimic prey. Males mimic females. Terrorists mimic tourists. Demagogues mimic statesmen. Charlatans mimic evangelists, and the list goes on and on....

Dissemblance among plants and animals is seen as a positive evolutionary adaptation. Among human beings, apart from the stage and for self-protection it is seen as damnable dishonesty.
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Re: Dissemble

Postby Perry Lassiter » Sun Sep 22, 2013 3:45 pm

I think of the word most often referring to someone who wants to hide his identity or some aspect therof, e.g. a language ability. Thus, a tourist in Spain may wish to dissemble about his fluency to catch unguarded conversations. Undercover agents regularly dissemble to gather inside information.
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Re: Dissemble

Postby MTC » Sun Sep 22, 2013 7:22 pm

"Among human beings, apart from the stage and for self-protection it is seen as damnable dishonesty."

What kind of judgmental blowhard could have written a thing like that!? Uh oh... Anyway, as Perry points out dissembling doesn't have to be damnable, e.g., brunettes dissemble blondes, white lies spare feelings, diplomats dissemble to achieve greater ends. Still, I think "dissemble" generally carries negative connotations. But having flogged "dissemble," I now feel guilty. Can't something be done to meliorate its reputation? Usage! That's it, usage. "My, what a sweet little dissembler you are." Good start, right?
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