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Dr. Goodword
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Postby Dr. Goodword » Sat Oct 28, 2006 11:46 pm

• scurrilous •

Pronunciation: skêr-rê-lês • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Using or expressed in foul, vulgar, or abusive language.

Notes: Today's Good Word is another losing its grip on its meaning. Too often we use scurrilous attack and scurrilous accusation simply in the sense of "slanderous" or even simply "without foundation". Merriam-Webster and Encarta have already slipped "slanderous", "defamatory" and "evil" into their definitions as synonyms. The highly dubious phrase scurrilous imposter is even offered as a legitimate example. We have too many words that mean simply "mean, evil"; let's not deprive English of this little edge of subtlety. Scurrilously is the adverb and scurrilousness is the noun.

In Play: If you like to be as precise as possible in speaking, be sure to use this word only if some type of speech vulgarity is involved: "Malcolm did express a few scurrilous sentiments about the tax assessor, who dropped by to register him while he was moving into his new house." This word may also refer to people whose speech is vulgar or profane, "Frieda Gogh runs around with such a scurrilous gang of hooligans that it hurts my ears just to hear them talk."

Word History: Today's Good Word is an extension of an older adjective, scurrile "buffoonish". This adjective, though no longer widely used, is still available for service, as is its noun, scurrility, and an adverb scurrilely (often mispronounced squirrelly). This adjective was borrowed from the French, who inherited it from Latin scurrilis, the adjective of scurra "buffoon". Scurra seems to have been a word borrowed by Latin from ancient Etruscan and is not related to any other words in the Indo-European language family. (We certainly have nothing scurrilous to say about our South African friend, Chris Stewart, who frequently sends us interesting problematic words like today's.)
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Postby Slava » Wed Oct 20, 2010 5:40 pm

Yet another of those words I've always misinterpreted. I'll fess up to having long thought that scurrilous was simply an under-handed, low blow, type of attack. Like swiftboat or roorback.

Now I know otherwise. As ever, now comes the hard part, remembering.
Life is like playing chess with chessmen who each have thoughts and feelings and motives of their own.

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