Word Hoard

Friday, December 22, 2006

Thank You, Miss Nevada

Racy, that was the word used to describe the pictures taken of Katie Rees when she was 19 in a bar. She later made another poor decision; she ran for Miss Nevada USA and won.

My question is why does racy mean what it does? What does race have to do with the risque or "ribald"? I understand how the first definition in Bartleby.com relates to the "brands" of man, but I come up empty when trying to relate the strong or sharp in flavor and the vigorous, lively meanings. Maybe it is just that the food is so distinct that it is sharp, but I'm not buying it. What does the OED say? (Daniel goes to get his OED off the shelf.)

The "race" in question is from the Italian razza. The OED's second definition:

A particular class of wine; the characteristic flavour of this. now rare or obsolete. E16. b fig. A characteristic individual style or manner of speech, writing, etc., esp. liveliness, piquancy. L17.

I think this puts us much closer to the relationship. The OED's definition for racy is similar to Bartleby:

Of a wine, fruit, flavour, etc.: having a characteristic (usu. desirable) quality, esp. in a high degree. M17. 2 Vigorous, spirited, lively; spec. (of speech, writing, etc.) vivid, piquant, uninhibited, risque. M17.

There is a fun phrase in their example block too: racy of the soil characteristic of a certain country or people. I like the connection her pictures taken in a bar have with wine. It is definitely a new and exciting way to play the race card. These definitions also focus our gaze. Many would say Tiger Woods is very racy because he is Caucasian, African-American, and Asian. When in fact, he is actually not racy because he doesn't have any of those characteristics in a high degree. I found it interesting that the adjective (M17) seems to carry the meaning of "lively" before the noun (L17).

Baffle crossed my mind this last week too. I didn't know what the confusion had to do with a "structure or enclosure designed to stop, alter, or regulate the movement of a gas, sound, light, or liquid." My American Heritage paperback also failed me with its [Orig. unknown.]. I don't take unknown for an answer.

Apparently, between 1983, the second edition when my paperback was published, and 2000, when the American Heritage fourth edition that Bartleby uses, they "perhaps" found an etymology:

Perhaps blend of Scottish Gaelic bauchle, to denounce, revile publicly, and French bafouer, to ridicule.

Seriously? You've got to be kidding me. I bet that gatherings of Gaelic Scots and French were full of ridicule and confusion. No wonder they gave us this word.

The connection between "stymie" and the object that stops or redirects air is a logical one, but where does it come from? Back to the OED. (I don't have to get it this time, already at my feet.)

Okay, most of these searches end with me being put in my place, and this one is no different, kinda. I'm going to be a bit obstinate and say that baffle is related to

baff: noun & verb Scot. E16. [Prob. from Old French baffe a slap in the face.] A noun. A blow with something flat or soft. E16. B verb trans. Beat, strike; GOLF strike (the ground) with the sole of the club-head in making a stroke. E16.

The OED agrees with the American Heritage:

baffle [In sense 1 perh. alt. of BAUCHLE verb. In other senses perh. rel. to French bafouer (16) ridicule, alt. of Old Provencal bafar cf. French beffler (Rabelais) mock, deceive.]
1 Subject to public disgrace or infamy; treat with scorn. M16-L17.

In case you were wondering bauchle, verb trans. Subject to disgrace or ignominy, vilify; = BAFFLE verb 1, is of uncertain origin, perhaps from bauch [Perh. from Old Norse bagr uneasy: cf. Icelandic bagur difficult, hard, (eiga) bagt (be) poor, hard up.] adj. Scot. E16 Weak, poor, spineless.

So, baffle baffles everyone else and subjects us to scorn and shame slapping us in the face, or doesn't if you don't agree with me, which you shouldn't. But what a fun trip it was; who would've thunk it that we would end up uniting Provencal and Icelandic in one little word?

[Editor's note: While I'm sure it is great fun to read dictionary entries verbatim, I think I'm going to start paraphrasing a bit, and just hope you trust me enough to believe I am using the OED or Bartleby.com]


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