Printable Version
Pronunciation: kæp-shês Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Deceptive in a way that misleads, entraps; sophistical. 2. Having an ill-natured fondness for catching others at fault and raising objections; caviling, carping.

Notes: Captious is another in our series of words that are not what they seem. It has nothing to do with captains or captions but is a well-behaved adjective from a poor but tidy family. It has an adverb, captiously, and a noun, captiousness, and that is pretty much it.

In Play: "Have you stopped beating your husband?" is a captious question in the first sense of the word: it tries to entrap you. It brings to mind advertisements like, "Super Eldop Extra with BS-43 helps stop tough headache pain according to studies by a respected east coast research institution." This ad is designed to make you think Eldop is a wonder drug for stopping headaches. But "BS-43" could be evaporated water, and the studies may have been conducted at the company's own laboratories in the president's garage outside his home in New Monia, Maine. People who are captious in the second sense never have a good word for anyone or anything. If you know a captious person, treat them to a subscription to our Good Word service.

Word History: This good if misguiding word is another of the many that came to us from Latin via Old French. It began as Latin captiosus, the adjective from captio "seizure, sophism", the noun of capere "to seize". Related words borrowed from Latin include capture and caption (a phrase that 'grabs' you). The English word catch comes from Old North French cachier "to chase" from the same original Latin word. The original Proto-Indo-European root, kap-, came down to English as have and German haben. In German kap- became Haft "arrest" and also the suffix -haft "having", as in lebhaft "lively, spirited" from Leb-en "life" + -haft.

Dr. Goodword,

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