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The Glossary of Useful Words 7: ‘meretricious’

One consequence of living in The Age of Depravity in America is the falling away of rational thought when it comes to appraising aspects of contemporary culture (esp. popular culture and the arts, but not only). What is ubiquitously proffered by avatars of all stripes as excellent or meritorious more often than not turns out to be counterfeit but continues the life of all false coins long beyond their minting.

The word that best captures this state of affairs is the adjective ‘meretricious’, glossed as follows by the Oxford English Dictionary Online:

“Origin: A borrowing from Latin, combined with an English element.

Etymons: Latin meretrīcius + -ous suffix.

Etymology: < classical Latin meretrīcius ( < meretrīc- , meretrīx meretrix n. + -ius , suffix forming adjectives) + -ous suffix. Compare Italian †meretricioso (14th cent.).

  1. Of, relating to, or befitting a prostitute; having the character of a prostitute. Obs. (arch. in later use).
  1. Alluring by false show; showily or superficially attractive but having in reality no value or integrity.”

Noting the surprising (now obsolete and archaic) first meaning of the word, one is reminded of the axiom that true love is never for sale.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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