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A.Word.A.Day--accismus

Pronunciation RealAudio

There is a Word for it.

With the largest vocabulary of any language, in English we have a word to describe almost everything. And when we can't find one, we're happy to borrow from another language (from German: schadenfreude, pleasure at others' misfortune), or just make one up (petrichor, the pleasant smell of rain after a dry spell).

Having said that, let's not gloat over how many words we have. English's poverty shows in many places, for example, when it comes to words to describe relations. How useful is it to introduce the woman with you as your sister-in-law when the term could mean any number of things?

This week we visit a few terms that make one say, "I didn't know there was a word for it!" We start with:

accismus (ak-SIZ-muhs) noun

Feigning lack of interest in something while actually desiring it.

[From Greek akkismos (coyness or affectation).]

If you've ever uttered something resembling any of these expressions, you've practiced the fine art of accismus:

"Oh, you shouldn't have done it."
or
"Thank you, but I'm not worthy of such an honor."

Accismus is showing no interest in something while secretly wanting it. It's a form of irony where one pretends indifference and refuses something while actually wanting it. In Aesop's fable, the fox pretends he doesn't care for the grapes. Caesar, in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, is reported as not accepting the crown.

-Anu Garg (garg AT wordsmith.org)

"A woman uses no figure of eloquence -- her own, at most, excepted -- so often as that of accismus." Jean Paul Richter; Levana (translation); 1889. (Cited in the OED)

X-Bonus

Laws too gentle are seldom obeyed; too severe, seldom executed. -Benjamin Franklin, statesman, author, and inventor (1706-1790)

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