• solecism •
sah-li-si-zêm • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A speech error or grammatical mistake. 2. A breach of good manners, an impolite or tactless act, a socially awkward action.
Notes: This word captures the connection between speaking a regional dialect and presumed ignorance. I've addressed that issue here. Solecism has a full array of derivational relatives which are rarely used today. Someone who regularly makes solecisms is a solecist who speaks solecistically. The (obsolete) verb is solecize.
In Play: Any speech error is a solecism, not merely grammatical ones: "The talk by R. Swipes at the Rotary Club was filled with solecisms, not the least of which was referring to Prague as the capital of Poland." An error in protocol or a breach of good manners is also a solecism: "At Downton Abbey no one ever committed the solecism of greeting the domestic staff before their host."
Word History: English snatched this one from Middle French solécisme, inherited from Latin soloecismus "grammatical mistake", which Latin borrowed from Greek soloikismos "a speaking (Greek) incorrectly". The Greek noun was derived from soloikos "speaking with an accent, awkward as a clod-hopper". Originally it referred to speaking like the people of Soloi, a Greek colony in Cilicia, modern Mezitli, Turkey. The reaction of Athenian Greeks to this accent was like the American reaction to the old Brooklyn or Southern accents. Most Americans who spoke the dominant dialect assumed that speakers of these dialects did so because of ignorance. So, characters in movies speaking in either of these dialects were usually comic characters. (Today we thank our long-time, solecism-free contributor Lew Jury for today's tantalizing Good Word.)
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