Know Your Words

“Authoritarian” and Other Words in Flake’s Speech

Flakey“Our democracy will not last”–those are the first five words an article appearing in the Washington Post, and they come from a floor speech that Arizona Senator Jeff Flake (R) delivered on the floor of the chamber on January 17, 2018.

Whatever your politics, it’s a remarkable read. This was a speech accusing the current the President of the United States of anti-democratic behavior, and it was given by a sitting (although outgoing) Senator of the same party. Gnarly.

Anyhoo, my aim here is not to praise or critique the content of the Mr. Flake’s speech, but to provide a closer look at some of the terms that appear in it. As is often the case when words take center stage, people start to wonder just what the hell some of them mean, even if they get thrown about on a (semi-) regular basis. As a case in point, consider Merriam-Webster’s list of “trending” words, which rise to the top of our collective curiosity after appearing in the media (or one of Trump’s tweets … or a response to one of Trump’s tweets).

With that in mind, I’d like to call attention to some of the words that appeared in the Flake Speech. There are quite a few chewy morsels of wordy goodness in Flake’s remarks–empirical, lexicon, annihilate, shame, despotism, slur, obeisance. Although I don’t have the time to dig into them all, I’d like to spend the rest of this post taking a look at a few of them. Naturally, I’ll use some of the texts in the LRL’s collection to help me out.

1) “No longer can we compound attacks on truth with our silent acquiescence. No longer can we turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to these assaults on our institutions.”

To remain at rest, either physically or mentally; to rest satisfied (OED)

To consent or comply passively, without protest (AHD)

Tacit consent; passive submission; patient acceptance; agreement; compliance (WD)

To accept or consent quietly without protesting (WNWDAL)

From Latin ad- (at) and quiescere (to rest) – Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories

2) Here in America, we do not pay obeisance to the powerful – in fact, we question the powerful most ardently – to do so is our birthright and a requirement of our citizenship….”

Right by birth; the rights, privileges, or possessions to which one is entitled by birth; inheritance, patrimony. (OED)

Any privilege granted a person by virtue of his birth. (2) Any special privilege accorded to the first born. (AHD)

Any right, privilege, or possession to which a person is entitled by birth (WD)

The rights that a person has because he (sic) was born in a certain family, nation, etc (WNWDAL)

3) “Also not trivial are the equally pernicious fantasies about rigged elections and massive voter fraud, which are as destructive as they are inaccurate ….”

Having the quality of destroying; tending to destroy, kill, or injure; destructive; ruinous; fatal. (OED)

Tending to cause death or serious injury; deadly. Causing great harm; destructive; ruinous. (AHD)

Highly injurious or hurtful (WD)

Causing injury, destruction, or ruin; fatal; deadly (WNWDAL)

Pernicious is from Latin perniciosus (destructive), from pernicies (ruin), based on nex, nec- (death) – Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories

4) I dare say that anyone who has the privilege and awesome responsibility to serve in this chamber knows that these reflexive slurs of “fake news” are dubious, at best.”

A deliberate slight; an expression or suggestion of disparagement or reproof. (OED)

To pass over lightly or carelessly; treat without due consideration (AHD)

To soil, sully, or contaminate (WD)

To pass over quickly and carelessly; make little of (WNWDAL)

According to the Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories, the origin of slur is unknown, but it’s believed to be related to the Middle English noun slur meaning thin, fluid mud, which in turn gave rise to the verbs smear, smirch, and disparage.

5) “… perhaps the most vexing untruth of all – the supposed “hoax” at the heart of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.”

To trouble, afflict or harass (a person) by aggression by aggression, encroachment, or other interference with peace and quiet. (OED)

To irritate or annoy, as with petty importunities; bother; pester (AHD)

To irritate by small annoyances; harass; tease; make angry (WD)

To make trouble for, disturb, annoy, irritate, especially in little things. (WNWDAL)

Vex is from the Old French word vexer, which is traced back to Latin vexare, meaning to “shake or disturb.” – Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories.

Oh, and one last important one:

6) We are, rather, in an era in which the authoritarian impulse is reasserting itself, to challenge free people and free societies, everywhere.”

Favorable to the principle of authority as opposed to that of individual freedom. (OED)

Characterized by or favoring absolute obedience to authority, as against individual freedom (AHD)

Favoring the principle that individuals should obey an authority rather than exercise freedom (WD)

Believing in, relating to, or characterized by unquestioning obedience to authority rather than individual freedom of judgement of judgement and action. (WNWDAL)

Sources:
AHD = American Heritage Dictionary
OED = Oxford English Dictionary
WD = Winston Dictionary
WNWDAL = Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language

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