Friday, May 27, 2005

Words which irritate

Firstly, thank god I can’t remember which blog used this dastardly word, or there’d be a libel action waiting on my doorstep tomorrow. But somewhere, I saw a word which quite unexpectedly got me in a little frenzy of hate:


Don’t ask me why, exactly — because I just don’t know why this word irritates me so. Perhaps it’s because I think that wisecracker does just as well and is actually more precise, in the sense that a good joke can be an unexpected crack of the linguistic whip.

It certainly isn’t because of the word’s modernity. At first I thought that wisecracker might be older, as wiseacre is more conspicuously used in the USA than the UK, but:

Wiseacre: 1595, partial translation of M.Du. wijssegger “soothsayer” (with no derogatory connotation), probably altered by association with M.Du. segger “sayer” from O.H.G. wizzago “prophet,” from wizzan “to know,” from P.Gmc. *wit “know.” The depreciatory sense of “one who pretends to know everything” may have come through confusion with obsolete Eng. segger “sayer,” which also had a sense of “braggart” (c.1440).

Hmmm. Could that be the same phoneme, then, as wizard? No. Strange. But wiseacre’s hateful.

Postscript: I am so glad that Maciej over at Idle Words has quit his job — you’ll remember that a while back I was devastated he was deserting Vermont, but the end of his job has heralded lovely posts. Like this one. Mmmm, pizza.

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