Daily Archives: August 17, 2009

naïve

Oh, look at that diaeresis on the i, two dots like two eyes goggling at the sights – someone from a backwater in the big city, with nothing to rely on but native wit: a real diamond in the rough. Backwater? Of course by now just about everyone knows Evian spelled backwards is naive. Native wit? Well, naïve is from the French feminine form of naïf, which came from Latin nativus to mean “without artifice; imitating nature.” In the diamond biz, naïf refers to a flawless diamond in its natural state, or to a part of the natural surface of a diamond deliberately left so during cutting and polishing. (Remember that a diamond in the rough means “in the rough form,” not “in rough surroundings.”) We might even find it is a diamond of the first water, on its way from the vein to the vain. But just as the diamond will have its world turned upside down, cut and polished, so might the naïve person; certainly in the word the n is turned and cut to v, and the a to e. Well, that’s reality – or is it naïve realism, a perspective that in philosophy makes you a rube (and not a ruby)? Other words that are often seen showing naïve around include reader and optimism (why does no one ever speak of naïve pessimism? there’s far too much of it, pretending to be realism), and it brings with it hopelessly, incredibly, totally, somewhat, and politically. The sound of the word can be fun – that break from the /a/ to the /i/ may remind one of the Cajun version of “whee!” (as heard in a TV car commercial). But don’t forget that this once anglicized word has been refrenchified, as evidenced by the double dot; say it as one syllable and it’s you who will be the knave.