Anoint

16 08 2010

Anoint – I like this word. Not sure why. It arrived in my inbox as a consequence of my being a subscriber of Visual Thesaurus. The accompanying little blurb reminded me that the “oint” in the second syllable is related to “ointment”; and that they’re both descendants of the Latin ungere, a transitive verb, meaning to oil or lubricate; to anoint; and (interestingly) to flatter.

I now remember that I was once very familiar with anoint as part of the Brown & Levinson theory of Politeness (Cambridge University Press, 1987). Showering positive attentions on another is a feature of positive politeness (eg I just l-o-v-e your roses/chocolate cake/ hair do…). In moderation, this works a treat in avoiding abrasive social relations (think of that lubricant), but done in excess (think of the connection to “flatter”), and you can end up in hot water. The expression a fly in the ointment also comes to mind here.

Thinking laterally, I’m aware of the connections with that most onomatopeic adjective unctuous which means oily or greasy. Unctuous can suggest, when used of a person, “excessively smooth, suave or smug” . To that dictionary definition, I might add the word “smarmythat likewise has a hint of an oily unpleasantness. It’s a lovely word for a not-very-lovely quality.

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One response

16 08 2010
Erika

Talking about bad quality “Cuna Indians anoint the tips of their arrows with poison”.




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