versute

“The cabal of the versute gens de condition resorting to social evils necessitates some sui generis safeguards to be inherent in social laws to make up for the nether social position of the wronged person and checkmate the malengine and pravity of the powerful.”

Reader, I did not make that up. It is from a book called Policing the Police by Praveen Kumar, and Mr. Kumar has emptied every drawer in his lexical tea chest to make a blend that will confound your tongue. He is making an impassioned critique of the inequity of justice in a system where financial means determine the quality of one’s legal representation. He seems determined to win his case through the wealth of his own verbal coffers.

My reflex is to say he needn’t. In modern North American letters, a clear and direct statement of the same principles with only the slightest sesquipedalian seasoning would be much more effective in pressing the point. But Mr. Kumar is from Bangalore, and I am not as well acquainted with the rhetorical tradition of which he is a part. I will say he is evidently one who enjoys fine and rare words, and I gotta tell ya, ain’t nothin’ wrong with that, as long as one chooses one’s audience wisely.

It does seem rather crafty, though, doesn’t it, in general? To use words that require extra exercise on the part of the reader – retrieving them from memory, or deducing their sense from parts and context, or flexing the muscles to look them up? Dress your text in a coruscating vesture, a dictionary disco-ball, to make readers turn their heads and be left with vertigo, diverting their better judgement so they might reverse their positions? Crafty.

Versute, in fact.

Versute is a real word. According to Oxford, it means ‘cunning, crafty, wily’. Its origin is clear: Latin vertere, ‘turn’ – which turns up in many an English word, such as vertigo, divert, and reverse. It puts me in mind of hirsute, which means ‘hairy’; versute might be said to mean ‘turny’. Or, I suppose, ‘dizzying’ – which, come to think of it, has a synonym vertiginous, which is a close relation of versute. But our word of today is too wily to be literal. Literary, yes, and literate… but is it suited to conveyance of veritas?

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