Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A very perplexing word today

I get the Word A Day mailing. Here's the word for today:

asperse
PRONUNCIATION: (a-SPURS)

MEANING:
verb tr.:
1. To spread false and malicious charges against someone.
2. To sprinkle with holy water.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin aspergere (to sprinkle), from ad- (toward) + spargere (to strew).


Now, what I want to know is how a word got such two radically different meanings?
Any ideas?

19 comments:

Alexandra said...

I was pondering over Parochial today:

1. having a limited or narrow outlook or scope.
2. Of or relating to a church parish.

Although yours takes the cake. Maybe each definition is a subtle jab at the other...

Tanguera said...

The Oxford Concise English dictionary mentions the first meaning and says: [Middle English = besprinkle, spatter...] so that might be why.

Another interesting word is cleave:

1. chop or break apart.
2. to stick fast; adhere.

Talk about opposites.

Tannat Madiran said...

Look to a more common form: aspersion.

via dictionary.com:

–noun
1. a damaging or derogatory remark or criticism; slander: casting aspersions on a campaign rival.
2. the act of slandering; vilification; defamation; calumniation; derogation: Such vehement aspersions cannot be ignored.
3. the act of sprinkling, as in baptism.
4. Archaic. a shower or spray.

When thinking of someone who would SPREAD false charges, doesn't one think of SPRAYING them? To shower them as in to completely saturate, or 'wet' the listener with malicious charges?

Closely resembles aspiration, yet is the opposite in re mechanics, where aspiration is the inhalation of fluid, aspersion is the SPREADING of fluid.

One also wonders if there is some tie to the thought that any baptisms performed in such a manner are invalid, according to a direct adherence to biblical texts, none of which make reference to sprinkling, but only to total immersion - sprinkling didn't come to be until much later in "Christianity's" evolution, about the 3rd century c.e. Maybe such baptisms are damaging and slanderous, an affront to what God set as an example to his followers who chose to only follow his guidelines "just so far..."

...and you thought I only wrote poor-taste wine-related articles.

GEORGIAM said...

According to the post behind the link below, it was all about the English society's development that caused this change in meaning...

Here's the link:
http://www.drbilllong.com/EvenMoreWords/AsperIII.html

Oh_bother said...

Wonderful site, georgiam! I looked asperse up on the Online Eymology Dictionary (one of my favorite sites!) and it said the same thing. No mention of post-Elizabethan society, though...

Inez Kelley said...

I prefer to think a vampire started using it the first way based on the second and it caught on. *snicker*

Heidi said...

and here I thought it was one of those players on the San Antonio basketball team!

james said...

Separation of church and state?

Just_Me said...

I like the vampire explanation.

Kerry said...

hey, I used to get that email. I wonder why it stopped coming? (I also wonder why I didn't realize that it stopped coming until now... a year or two after it stopped...)

The Anti-Wife said...

Maybe it's a 2 part word: First spread false and mailcious charges against someone, then sprinkle yourself with holy water so you won't get in trouble.

Janet said...

The root meaning is sprinkle. The first definition has stuck quite closely to the root meaning, but the other has acquired connotations over the years.

You see the same thing happening with the word "livid". It means pale, but because it was used so often in the context of "pale with anger" that the "anger" part of it has now almost entirely taken over.

Word verification: lastappy. That's gotta mean something.

Annette Lyon said...

This is my kind of post. I was about to pull up my OED on CD to check it out, but it looks like the answer's already here. And I'm totally going to the site georgeiam suggested.

Lehcarjt said...

I've been really enjoying this week's words of the day. Although I liked last weeks words too - all based around political candidate's names.

If you don't already get it, another fun 'word of the day' email list is:

http://www.wordspy.com/.

The focus is 'new' language. Today's word was 'recession chic' n. Style and elegance on a tight budget.

The examples of word usage from newspapers, etc. are sometimes hilarious.

Jonathan E. Quist said...

I had thought "livid" meant, roughly, "turning color". "Livid with rage" meaning "red in the face".

E.g., see any definition of Livor mortis

Janet said...

JEQ, and that's a perfect example of how the meaning of words slide around. A word that means pale ends up calling up images of red-faced anger.

But livid still means pale, nonetheless. And is occasionally used in that sense still, as in a livid moon.

Steve Stubbs said...

Holy water is a Catholic idea, and England in the Elizabethan period was not a pro-Catholic country, since the church was believed to be plotting to kill and overthrow their sovereign. That perception, whether justified or not, was strengthened during the so-called Popish Plot to kill the Stuart King James II. So it makes sense that they would have equated the use of an aspersory with pissing on someone.

If you have an aspersory in your cupboard you can sprinkle people you do not like and be assured no one else will be in on the joke.

Jonathan E. Quist said...

Yes, well, my aspersory is right next to my Popeil Pocket Fisherman.

Which makes it convenient when I want to cast aspersions.

Ba-dum

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't want to caste any aspersions