• Monthly Archives: January 2021

The Glossary of Useful Words 18: ‘afflatus’

January 24, 2021

‘Afflatus’ is an originally Latin word, imported into English in the seventeenth century, which is rarely used in contemporary speech or writing, but undeservedly so. Its etymology (according to the OED) is as follows:
Origin: A borrowing from Latin. Etymon: Latin afflātus.
Etymology: < classical Latin afflātus emission of breath, breathing on, pestilential or fiery breath, aspiration, breeze or wind, vapour, exhalation, blast of hot air, inspiration, in post-classical Latin also sudden attack of erysipelas (1743)
The contemporary meanings, as registered by several online dictionaries, are:
The communication of supernatural or spiritual knowledge; divine impulse; inspiration, esp.    poetic inspiration. Also: an instance of this.
Inspiration; an impelling mental force acting from within.
divine communication of knowledge.
divine imparting of knowledge or power : supernatural or overmastering impulse
Here is a sentence using the word from an earlier post (May 8, 2009):
“His look of total incomprehension as we descended punctured the afflatus I was feeling at my literary mot juste.”


“Hesitancy” vs. “Hesitation:” The Dominance of Grammatical Structure

January 16, 2021

In contemporary (media) speech, increasingly one hears the word “hesitancy” instead of the traditional “hesitation,” to the point where one almost never hears the latter. The question why has an answer rooted in the derivational history of the two items though their meaning is identical.

“Hesitation” is a deverbal substantive derived from the verb “hesitate” by adding the suffix {-ion} to the verbal root {hesitate-}. “Hesitancy,” on the other hand is deadjectival substantive derived from the adjectival root {hesitant-}. Since both adjectives and substantives are part of the category of nominals, a deadjectival substantive like “hesitancy” has a more immediate semantic force owing to its derivational history––a force missing from a substantive like “hesitation” that is deverbal. In short, the ascendancy of “hesitancy” vs. “hesitation” is to be accounted for by its greater derivational proximity in comparison to its deverbal counterpart.

This is an example that bears out the general analysis of semantic force in language as being invariably rooted in the language’s grammatical structure.


Differences in Speech Styles: Garrulity vs. Taciturnity

January 1, 2021

Y-H-B took the opportunity of celebrating the New Year this morning by having breakfast at his favorite morning eatery, Up for Breakfast, in Manchester Center, Vermont, and was served (as usual) by a very nice, well-spoken fifty-year-old lady who is given to garrulousness. Whenever asked a question, she always answers at great length, going into microscopic detail as to the particulars of the situation she is describing. This habit called to mind the differences in speech styles that are characteristic of all active users of modern languages, including contemporary American English.
The diametrical opposite of garrulousness (also known as loquaciousness or talkativeness) is, of course, taciturnity. Some speakers are habitually give to a linguistic sparsity when it comes to language use, and this is clearly a preference that falls squarely in the domain of speech styles. The predilection for copiousness or its opposite in language use must be tacitly motivated by personality differences and manifests itself consistently in the speech of all language users.