more good words...

… that can’t be used because they mean other things in today’s world:

Stigmata (I don’t know anyone who knew what it meant before the movie)
Felching (on the Dope, anyway)

Anyong got any more good words?

The link to the Mailbag article: Is the word “niggardly” racist? – CKDH

[Note: This message has been edited by CKDextHavn]

How has the meaning of the word stigmata changed?

I don’t see how the word “stigmata” has changed either. Maybe the original poster was mixing it up with “stigma”?

I’ll confess, too, that I’m uncomfortable with “niggardly” even though I know fully well its definition and the fact that it has nothing to do with any racial slur. It’s not a word that would offend me were someone else to use it, but I wouldn’t use it myself lest someone misunderstand me. I don’t worry about political correctness; I just don’t want to be branded a racist for using an innocent word that has the misfortune of sounding like a very ugly one.

I have to say, I disagree with Ian on whether grammatical correctness should have precedent over what he calls “political correctness” and what I would call “meaningful communication.”

Whether we like it or not, we are communicating to people who may not have the same education that we do. If they misunderstand the words that you are using, then you were wrong to have used them.

Easy example: the word “gay” still has the meaning of happy and carefree in the dictionary, but not in popular usage. You can deplore this all you want, but if you describe someone as “gay” in a public forum, whether you MEANT happy and carefree is irrelevant. You will be heard as saying that the person is same-sex oriented. What you said and what others hear can be very different.

I fought the battle for years with the word data. “Data” is plural. “Datum” is singular. But the word data has come into common use as taking a singular verb, so when I say “the data are,” my clients think that I’m either (a) wrong or (b) supercilious. In either case, I create an impression of myself by the words I use. What I say and what they hear are different.

Words are all about communication, and words change meaning and context over time. The word “niggardly” is too open to misinterpretation (IMHO) to be used in public. We can lament the loss of a perfectly good word, but that’s the current environment, like it or not.

Words are all about communication, and being understood. I refer you to the chapter where Alice meets Humpty Dumpty, in case you think this is a new problem.

I think “gay” has a new meaning, in my area, anyway.

It means “bad.”

If something bad happens to you, you would say, “oh, this is so gay.”

But, so far I’ve heard this only from high-school-age gals.

Dex, I just have to disagree with you on “open to misinterpretation”. How can a speaker be held responsible for an audience’s reaction to what he doesn’t say? Do people who assume you’re using a forbidden term when you say “niggardly” also think it’s blaphemous to say “hello”? Should people be in fear of buying Shiitake mushrooms, or walking their Shih-tzu, or building a dam, or using any term that, not offensive in itself, might simply REMIND someone of an offensive term? I’m sorry, I’m all for avoiding terms that are truly offensive to others, but I believe no one should be held responsible for causing offense only in the mind of a listener who didn’t cophrehend what they said.

Love the ignorant, hate the ignorance.

I guess it depends on the audience, Ian, and on how common the words are. If I am talking to clients, then I do not want to run the risk of being misunderstood. I tend to use simple words and simple sentences. If I were lecturing in academic circles, I might feel different.

“Shiitake mushrooms” and “hello” are in common use, and there is a whole extra syllable (or even a whole extra word) on the end. “Niggard” has only that hard-to-hear d on the end.

Furthermore, “niggardly” is a word that, in my teenage years back in the 16th Century, usually appeared on SAT-practice tests, meaning it was NOT a common word. Those tests rarely asked about words like “table” or “chair”, but “niggardly” and “foppish” could be counted on.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand your perspective, but I think that a speaker needs to take into account his/her audience and context. You ask how the speaker can be responsible for what his audience hears, and I agree that is somewhat beyond his control. But I also think that he should go to whatever lengths are necessary to be sure that his communication is clear.

Forget Shiitake and hello, let’s imagine you work for a car company and you’ve come up with the name “Nova”, a perfectly good car name in the U.S. But your great idea to market in Latin America fizzles because they Spanish speakers heard “No va.” You cost the company millions of dollars. You believe that you shouldn’t be held responsible because the listeners didn’t comprehend what you said?

The other famous story is the speaker to a bunch of high school kids in Brazil, who were coming to America on an exchange program. The speaker wanted to tell them that everything was going to be OK, so he made the “OK” gesture (thumb and finger making the letter “O”.) That sign was read by the kids as meaning there would be plenty of loose women in America. Are you saying the speaker shouldn’t be held responsible, because “what he said” and “what they heard” were different?

Examples can go on and on. Sadly, there’s no surefire way to prevent miscommunication, but there is a process that can reduce the risk of miscommunication: thinking about what you are about to say, and then putting yourself in your audience’s shoes and asking what they will hear.

Errr… “Stigmata” is the plural of “stigma”. Or a plural.

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

I haven’t seen the movie, so I’d still like to know how the meaning of stigmata, or stigma, has changed.

I have to disagree with Dex, as well. The guy who was taken to task for using the word “niggardly” has a job back–part of the dustup was reports that he’d said something entirely different, as the mailbag column points out. Snopes has debunked the Nova urbanlegend also, and a lot of what they say seems to apply to the “niggardly” situation:

Then again, I have to agree with Dex. The most successful salesman are sensitive to their customers’ needs. And people who genuinely don’t give a shit how their words are misinterpreted are known as “assholes.” No wait, the mailbag says, “jerks.” OK, jerks.


Mjollnir: my (junior high school-age) son also uses “gay” more or less as a synonym for “bad”. I just noticed it the other day; he said something (I forget what) was “so gay.”

It was pretty clear from the context that he was not saying “this object is extremely homosexual” or even “this object is the sort of object that would be used by, liked by, or have some other connection with individuals who are themselves homosexual.” He was saying “This object is no good.”

It changes the meaning of the Flintstones theme song yet again.

I don’t mean the meaning of the word has changed, but when someone hears it now, they think of the movie. Like the word ‘titanic’ is a good word meaning ‘gargantuan’ or ‘really, really big’, but when it’s said now, it means the ship or the movie. If you mention ‘stigmata’ now, people will think “Ooh, that was a good movie!” See what I mean?

Torq: See, I have to disagree. I’ve heard a lot of folks using the phrase “That’s so gay!” lately. And yes, I assume they mean “bad.” But it seems as though the slang clearly derives from gay(homosexual) = bad = gay(slang for bad). Saying it didn’t is like saying a “bitch-slap” isn’t a sexist remark. No, it just happened to come into use, with no etiology whatsoever. Pshaw. I think it’s an excuse, and whether intended to be homophobic or not, it certainly comes across that way to an audience (me, at least).


So what’s the non-disgusting, non-Straight Dope meaning for “felching”?

Other good words that are lost on some circles:
pity - It used to mean compassion, and have a positive connotation, now it has a very definite negative connotation of patronizing and insulting feelings
sympathy - Also has acquired a negative connotation, and thus has been replaced by “empathy”. “Sympathizers” are simpering (not the euphony) bleeding-hearts; “sympathy” is something could tough macho people reject.
empathy - Used to mean a different thing from sympathy, now it’s being used as sympathy’s non-pejorative replacement. Prediction: it’ll go the same way as pity and sympathy. “Don’t give me your condascending empathy. You think I’m some helpless little puppy?! Go to hell! I’m super-tough. Hand me my Beretta. blah blah blah”

Dang it! How come I keep spelling “note” without the e? Rhetorical question.

I meant to say, “Note the euphony [between simpering and sympathy]”

A lot of the racial words are pretty much obsolete unless you like eating brickbats.

Mongoloid got attached to Down’s Syndrome. In fact a lot of people insist that Mongoloid has nothing to do with any race, and that it sounds similar to “Mongolian” purely by coincidence.

Caucasoid got mutated into “Caucasian”. So now nobody believes me when I tell them that there is a Caucasian family of languages, with a small ethnic group attached, which doesn’t include the vast majority of Caucasoids. Georgians are Caucasians … “Well that’s an overgeneralization. I knew a brother in Atlanta who was part Samoan”.

And everybody knows what happened to Negroid. The Negroes are an African ethnic group, distinct from Negritos, Berbers, Ethiopians, etc.

Anyway, I’m not a big fan of the old three-races-of-man schema; I prefer modern views of ethnicity and language. I just think it would be better if we could discuss the old racialist anthropology without people saying, “Oh they used to refer to Asians as Mongoloids! That’s so horrible.”

JSexton, one comment. True, the etymology of “gay = bad” comes from “gay = homosexual = bad”. However, at some point the majority of users lose track of the etymology and only know the result, not the reason it got that way. I don’t think that’s happened yet in this case.

I’d guess the OP was referring to stigmata in the sense of bleeding wounds on the hand as opposed to simply the plural of stigma…but I haven’t seen the movie.

I still want to know the other meaning of felching, though.


I have also heard the gay=bad in conversation (and used it cringe). I think it is losing the gay=homosexual=bad connotation, but slowly. I said it without thinking in fromt of a gay co-worker once, and felt like a total moron, even though he didn’t say anything. I think “bitch-slap” has totally lost its uncomfortable connotations. The word I regret the common use of is “queer”. I like the way it sounds, but if you use it around the wrong poeple, they look at you like you have 2 heads.

Irishman: That can be true. However, some offensive terms also just get generally frowned on and disappear from accepted conversation. The N-word is a prime example.

Midnight: You really think bitch-slap is acceptable now, other than in a sarcastic tone? Hmm. Maybe it’s a regional thing, but it still seems generally unaccepted here in the Pac NW.

Right, but that isn’t happening in this case. Here the homosexual=bad is not disappearing.

What is odd to me is the morph of the meaning of the word “bitch”. Now it’s often used in a non-genderal form. A guy can be a bitch. Hmmm.