Daily Archives: September 8, 2015

blatant

Blatant! It’s like a blunt blast from a blaring horn, something so obvious it’s a blow to the eyes and ears. It’s the exact opposite of latent, and the difference is made with the simple addition of the punch-to-the-head /b/ at the start. It’s like so many other things that start with an obstruent (b, f, g) plus a liquid (r or l) and the “long a” sound /eɪ/ in a trochaic word: blazing, glaring, flagrant, flaming, brazen

The things most often described as blatant include discrimination, racism, prejudice, hypocrisy, and violation and disregard of various things (laws, codes, sanctions, shareholders…). There is clearly a typical sense of a shameless display of blameworthy behaviour. It’s a word for the sort of person who will lie openly… to your face… about you.

But where did we get this word? Did it slip in the backdoor, evolve from somewhere, undergo a gradual change of meaning? Perhaps it’s formed on bleat as an alternative to bleating? Or perhaps it comes from Latin blatire to babble?

There are theories and claims. But we do know exactly when it first appeared in the English language. Wander over to your bookshelf and, with both hands, heft down your copy of Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene, that epic poem published in the 1590s. In it, Spenser creates a character he calls the blatant beast (or blattant beast – he spells it two ways, and we can see he probably meant it to have a “short” a). It is a thousand-tongued monster, the offspring of Cerberus and Chimaera, and it symbolizes slander. The word blatant from that came to mean ‘noisy, obtrusive, clamorous’ and thence the modern sense. Somewhere in there the a became the “long” diphthong it is now, no longer just noisy but pointed.

Still, where did Spenser get the word from? Did he just blatantly make it up? He might as well have. At this point, it matters little; it is known by its sound and by the company it keeps. And it does not even pretend otherwise.