A word for curly-moustached villains hatching plots involving horrible things done to sweet, innocent young ladies. What nouns are most often seen after this adjective? Plot, purposes, activities. The word does not automatically signal its object phonaesthetically; a nef, perhaps belonging to Nefertiti, is nothing to fear, and the nefar sounds more like a foreign-accented version of never. The fari is likewise unthreatening if you think of fairy; it may be cause for greater caution if you think ferry and whether you can trust the ferryman. The arious may end precarious but it also ends hilarious. Just as villains rarely wear their villainy so boldly (“one may smile, and smile, and be a villain”) – never mind the twitching moustachio or the monocle and fluffy cat – this word has such a soft approach in the sound. It even conceals its origins a little: Latin ne “not” plus fas “that which is right, moral, etc.” Oh, the French cognate néfaste wears it more clearly, but néfaste does not mean quite the same thing; it signifies harm more by ramification than by villainy. The change of the s to an r in nefarious is a result of a phonological camouflage called rhotacism: the [s] medially voices to [z] and the [z] medially flaps (or trills) to [r]. A fricative in liquid’s clothing! Ah, and this underhanded rhotacism, this bait-and-switch, could be seen as a cipher for the surreptitious (and serpentine) eroticism of the melodrama’s villain. So subtle: have some Madeira, m’dear… and come up and see my etchings. Or my escutcheon.
Be a patron!Support Sesquiotica and get extra premium content and goodies. Starts as low as $1 a month! Find out more and subscribe on Patreon.com
I am for hireI earn my living as an independent editor, writer, and educator. Find out more and contact me at jamesharbeck.com.
Buy the T-shirt (or coffee mug or hip flask)
Wear it proudly:
I operate on a NEED-TO-KNOW basis. I need to know EVERYTHING.
Buy it at cafepress.ca/sesquiphernalia
12 Gifts for Writers ebook – free download
Buy my books
Buy my books on Lulu.com:
- Confessions of a Word Lush (paperback)
- Confessions of a Word Lush (ebook)
- Songs of Love and Grammar (paperback)
- Songs of Love and Grammar (ebook)
- 12 Gifts for Writers (print edition)
You can also get them on Amazon.com. Please note that I make less than half as much per book if you buy them there, however.
Word Tasting Notes Google groupGet just the word tasting notes daily by email – join the Google Word Tasting Notes group.
- 365 words for drunk
- confident in or about?
- An article title, "An article title 'An article title needs commas' needs commas," needs commas
- turn the other cheek
- To be, or not to be, that is the question
- around, about, approximately
- I plight thee my troth
- Can a metaphor be hyperbole too?
- Coffice Space
- from the bookshelf
- language and linguistics
- new old words
- Poetry Minute and a Half
- pronunciation tips
- sentence tastings
- The Week
- Word Country
- word pictures
- word portraits
- word reviews
- word sommelier
- word tasting notes