Monday, June 23, 2003

Etymology Today from M-W:
osculate \AHSS-kyuh-layt: kiss

"Osculate" comes from the Latin noun "osculum," meaning "kiss" or "little mouth." It was included in a dictionary of "hard" words in 1656, but we have no evidence that anyone actually used it until the 19th century (except for scientists who used it differently, to mean "contact"). Would any modern writer use "osculate"? Ben Macintyre did. In a May 2003 (London) Times piece entitled "Yes, It's True, I Kissed the Prime Minister's Wife," Macintyre wrote, "Assuming this must be someone I knew really quite well, I screeched 'How are you,' . . . and leant forward preparatory to giving her a chummy double-smacker . . . Perhaps being osculated by lunatics you have never seen before is one of the trials of being a Prime Minister's wife. She took it very well. "

Usage Watch: gauntlet
In passing in his NYT Magazine column this week, William Safire says that "gauntlet" actually means "a glove used as a challenge." This, he says, is "not to be confused with gantlet, a lane of punishment, as in 'to run the gantlet' -- ah, skip it; sometimes distinctions ask too much."
This indeed figures to be a lost nuance, going the way of "stamp your feet" (vs. "stomp") and "champing at the bit" (vs. "chomp"). Well, there are greater worries in the world.

Previous E.T.

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