I was visiting my grandmother in the US last weekend. She lives in a Free Methodist nursing home now. She’s a very nice person, a woman who has always lived a life of utmost integrity but has never been an agelast. She’s unable to get out to church now, so we were looking for a suitable substitute on TV. We happened on a program on Inspiration TV called Campmeeting (when I was a kid living on an Indian reserve, we went to quite a few camp meetings, and they were exactly nothing like this program… but that’s a separate matter). The guy who was first singing, then talking, was a fellow called Mike Murdock. I won’t discuss my overall estimation of what he was saying, as this is not a theology tasting note (but hint: I wasn’t in complete agreement with it). But one thing he said caused me to pull out my Lett’s and write something down.
What he said was – he was talking about his father – he said his father was “an integrous man.” That’s integrous with the stress on the teg.
Now, he was speaking in a friendly, somewhat folksy style, one of those styles where you might interrupt and reframe a sentence midway through, but also with some degree of a sound of erudition. So maybe we’ll make some allowances. But, now, I want you to ask yourself, Is that a display of grammatical integrity? Is that an integrous use of English? Do you – can you – will you recognize that word, integrous?
Well, you know what it means. It’s obvious. It means, as a man, he was one – that’s one, the first integer, that’s integer as in whole number, because he lived his life in a whole, uncorrupted way. He was not divided – he didn’t say one thing one way and another thing another. Integrous comes from Latin integritas, “wholeness, completeness, purity, integrity”. And integritas comes from in meaning “not” and a root related to tangere “touch”. Untouched. He was not touched. He was not broken, or sullied, or even had a little fingerprint on him like you’d need to get our your handkerchief and wipe off. He was a man of integrity.
But again, are you asking, Why not just say “He was a man of integrity”? Well, I ask you, is there more integrity in using several words when you can use one? You say it’s not a word, but he used it and you understood it. So it’s a word. And maybe this is the one and only time you’ll hear it, but that doesn’t make it not a word if he used it and you understood. Write this down: this is the Law of Words: if one person uses an integral lexeme – that’s a thing used as a word, treated like a word – to mean something, and the person hearing it understands it to mean what it was intended to mean, then that’s a word, brother. You say it’s not in your dictionary? Maybe you just don’t have a big enough dictionary. I’ll tell you this: it’s in God’s dictionary. It’s also in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Now, those of you out there with your iPads and your desktop computers checking your OEDs, I know you’re about to say, It says “obsolete, rare.” And that’s true: they have just one quotation containing the word, and it’s from 1657. That’s not so long after the King James Version of the Bible was published. And that quote is, “That an action be good, the cause ought to be integrous.”
The cause ought to be integrous. You understood that, right? He meant something with it – he had a meaning in mind – he wanted to deliver a message to you. It wasn’t a maybe, it wasn’t scattered, it wasn’t I’ll-get-back-to-you-next-week. It was an integrous intention. He used that word, and you understood it. The action was good. It was good enough in 1657, and it’s good enough today.
But does it bother you? That’s not the way you say it, you say? That’s just a made-up word? Well, every word was made up sometime, and some of the words you use were made up a lot more recently than you think. You can keep going around through the garden gate and saying “He was a man of integrity.” You can use a prepositional phrase complement instead of a nice single adjective modifier, and I can’t stop you making extra work for yourself and everybody. But ask yourself: Is that an integrous thing to do?
Yes, I guess we need to be open to new/old words! (Even things like “medalling” as a verb, I suppose…) This post brought to mind a friend who sometimes mispronounces words, including “frustrating,” which he always pronounces as “flustrating.” Usually when he says it, he’s indicating an emotion that is in fact a mix of frustration and flusteredness (if that is, in fact, the noun form). And I suppose that’s one way that new words get born, though his hasn’t caught on yet.
Nice. Definitely descriptive rather than proscriptive. I’m on board with that.
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