Every Monday, Talk Wordy to Me discusses newspapers’ uses of big or obscure words in Encomiums and Deprecations. An encomium is glowing and warmly enthusiastic praise. A deprecation is an expression of disapproval.
OK, so not last week. But here's two encomiums for this week.
To Slate, for the word proboscidean in an article about the trade in elephant ivory
Wild elephants are never going to be tolerated in Africa so long as locals cannot profit from the animals' most valuable asset: those 120-pound teeth. As journalist John Frederick Walker argues in his provocative new book, Ivory's Ghosts: The White Gold of History and the Fate of Elephants (to be published in January), the high regard with which American zoo-goers hold these proboscideans is not shared by poverty-stricken farmers in Kenya, who must contend with 4-ton living bulldozers rampaging their cassava fields and threatening their lives.
It's clear from the context that proboscidean refers to the elephants. Specifically, "any of an order (Proboscidea) of large mammals comprising the elephants and extinct related forms (as mastodons)," according to Merriam-Webster. So all elephants are proboscideans, but not all proboscideans are elephants.
It's related to proboscis, a Latin word that means "1. A long flexible snout or trunk, as of an elephant. 2. The slender, tubular feeding and sucking organ of certain invertebrates, such as insects, worms, and mollusks," according to the Amerian Heritage Dictionary. Proboscis comes from the Greek proboskis, which is formed from the root word boskein (meaning to feed) and the prefix pro- (meaning in front of).
Encomium (I think):
To the Associated Press, for the word lexicon in a story about the Indianapolis Colts:
“If we were in any stages of complacency, I think our players looking at that (first Houston) game should take care of that,” Colts coach Tony Dungy said. “We have to continue to work and see if we can play better than we have the last couple of weeks and defend our home turf. It’s obviously a big game for us.”
Complacency is a word that hasn’t entered the Colts’ lexicon all season.
American Heritage says a lexicon is "1. A dictionary. 2. A stock of terms used in a particular profession, subject, or style; a vocabulary: the lexicon of surrealist art." This was in a story I was editing on Saturday night for our Sunday paper. I wavered about leaving it in or changing it to vocabulary. But I think the story was saying that complacency was not part of the vocabulary of the football team (a particular profession). So I left it in.
The etymology, also from American Heritage: "Medieval Latin, from Greek lexikon (biblion), word (book), from neuter of lexikos, of words, from lexis, word, from legein, to speak."