• contraption •
kên-træp-shên • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A mechanical device that appears odd or strange, or looks funny. 2. An unsafe or makeshift device, a contrivance that raises doubt of its effectiveness or trustworthiness in the minds of onlookers.
Notes: Americans have always mistrusted intellectuals. Since intellectuals tend to use Latinate words, a favorite way to lampoon them is to create ridiculous fake Latin words. Today's Good Word is another word that caricatures what Americans think is highfalutin' language by faking a Latin origin, just like discombobulation, absquatulate, and gumption. It is a lexical orphan without any derivational family.
In Play: Contraptions differ from machines in that they may look funny: "Harry built a Rube Goldberg contraption in his garage that he claims can cut and style anyone's hair, man or woman." However, they may simply raise doubt in some peoples' minds of their effectiveness: "Gramps never trusted newfangled contraptions like the telephone, radios or washing machines—let alone computers."
Word History: The current explanation of today's Good Word is that was contrived by blending contrivance with trap, then adding the Latinate suffix -ion. This is a possibility only if we think of a hunter's trap, a rusty, loosely assembled device for trapping animals by latching onto their feet. This would explain how the connotation of "unsafe" came to be in the sense of the word. A less likely source is a blend of contrivance + apt, since it is the contraption's inaptitude for doing the job it was created for that is central to its meaning. (Today gratitude is owed John Graham for recommending we do this funny little Good Word.)
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