• chicanery •
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: 1. Quibbling, caviling, nit-picking. 2. Trickery, shiftiness, sneakiness, cheating.
Notes: Today's good noun rests on a verb, (to) chicane, which also has a personal (agent) noun, chicaner. Chicanery, of course, is what chicaners are usually up to. Although this word can mean simply to quibble, even here it exudes a sense of tricky nit-picking. The reason for this confusion is that the original sense was the caviling of lawyers in court.
In Play: Let's try to use this Good Word in both its senses with the correct connotations: "The divorce is proceeding slowly because the lawyers get involved in such chicanery, it takes forever to settle a single point." Here, again, the nit-picking is very suspicious. More recently, however, the word has become almost a synonym for trickery: "The search for a new president has raised the chicanery among top executives to almost Congressional levels."
Word History: Today's word is good and mysterious. It was surely borrowed from French chicanerie "legal wrangling and trickery", the noun from the verb chicaner. Where the French picked up this word, however, is a great puzzlement. While Chicanos are as capable of chicanery as anyone else, their name is etymologically unrelated to this good word; rather, it is an English pronunciation of a clipping of Spanish Mexicano "Mexican". The X in this word was once pronounced [sh].
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