Posts Tagged ‘Save the Words’

logorrhea /ˌlɒgə’riːə/

What’s the point of having a love of words and then avoid using them just because other people might not understand? I’m all for clarity in communication, and adapting your mode of discourse to accommodate the presumed needs of your audience is simply being polite. But in general, if we were all to decide only to use words we thought other folks understood, we’d be back to “Me Tarzan, you Jane” before you can say “Book burning.”

In fact, I suggest that logophiles (lovers of words) should see it as their duty to make sure that that as many words as possible get a regular airing so as to prevent their becoming a mere †word (the dagger symbol is used in dictionaries to mark “obsolete” word).

As an aside, if you haven’t checked out the Oxford Dictionaries’ Save the Words site, you’re missing a treat. Those of you who follow me on Twitter (@etyman) will know that I occasionally run a “Save the Words Week” where I provide the etymology for interesting but rare or obsolete words such as nubivagant (moving through clouds, from Latin “nubivagus” < “nubes”=cloud + “vagari”=to roam + “-ant”=adjective-forming suffix) and veprecous (full of prickly shrubs or bushes, from Latin “veprecosus” < “vepres”=brier or bramble bush).

The danger, of course, is that your listeners may decide you’re just a smart ass and begin to avoid talking to you. In some cases, this may be a good thing. But if you use the more esoteric words sparingly, in a reasonable context, and with a sense of humor, then it can make life just a little more interesting.

However, if you come under attack and are accused of using “verbal diarrhea,” you should cease the chance to provide an education of about the link between diarrhea and logorrhea, a fairly recently coined word but well worth tossing into a conversation.

The first written use of the word logorrhea was in James Baldwin’s 1902 Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology where he defined it as;

…the excessive flow of words, a common symptom in cases of mania.

This places it in the field of pathology, so was seen as an illness. In 1907, a mention in the Daily Chronicle supports this medical connotation where we find, “In the case of a man suffering from the insanity known as logorrhea the ideas come rapidly tumbling over each other.”

Like many words, it gradually shifted from being a tightly defined medical word to a more loosely applied general word to describe the behavior of anyone who is significantly verbose. In 1970, a review in the UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper had this to say about a book;

We are left with a tedious tale of complicated intrigues written by an author suffering from acute logorrhoea

In the same year, we can see logorrhea still being used as a psychiatric term, but it also appears to have developed a synonym; tachylogia. The OED doesn’t have tachylogia as an entry but it’s clearly derived from the Greek ταχύς  meaning “swift” or “fast,” and λόγος  meaning “speech” or “word.” Apart from the 1970 mention in the OED, I was unable to find any earlier written references, with both the Corpus of Historical American English and British National Corpus being spectacularly devoid of examples.

The λόγος element of logorrhea is the same as that of tachylogia and the Greek ῥοία part means “flow” or “stream,” which is clearly descriptive of the rapid stream of words associated with the condition.

Which is where the link to diarrhea comes in. The Greek διαρρεῖν means “to flow through,” and the OED defines diarrhea as;

A disorder consisting in the too frequent evacuation of too fluid fæces, sometimes attended with griping pains

The double use of the word “too” here might be stylistically suspect but it certainly highlights the sense of excess that comes from a bout of diarrhea.

Diarrhea is older than logorrhea, being first recorded in 1398 in John Trevisa’s best-selling pot-boiler Bartholomew de Glanville’s De Proprietatibus Rerum. OK, so I might be exaggerating a little as regards the excitement generated by the book but I’m guessing that this is the first time in months since it got a mention. I’ll be honest and say I’ve never read it, and that I have no desire to do so. However, I think it’s important to give a shout out now and again for dead 14th century writers who clearly put a lot of effort into scribing parchments.

So when logorrhea was coined, it’s not unreasonable to assume that it was influenced by the word diarrhea, and hence there is this relationship between the two. And what’s even more exciting is that you can also use this fact to respond to someone who accuses you of not only being a smart ass but “talking shit,” as you can now say “Funny you should say that but did you know…?”

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