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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Felicitous Felinity (12)—Abash

Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series Felicitous Felinity.
A year ago on Round and Square (17 July 2012)—Fieldnotes From History: Provincial Elections (m)
Two years ago on Round and Square (17 July 2011)—Hurtin' Country: Cold Day in July

[a] What abashed might look like...RF

I never said that all of the words would be obscure. This one—which usually comes in its "un-form"—represents a good example of the lower end of that "sweet spot" I spoke of in the introduction (something between everyday words and those used just once a week..or so). If you read a fair amount, you have seen this often. If you spend most of your time on Twitter, it is possible that you haven't (but its power-punch in just five characters should make you take notice).
[b] Faux paw RF


Disconcert, discombobulate, throw into confusion, humiliate, embarrass. This is just part of the universe of meaning surrounding this handy little five-letter word. We all step on toes, cross over invisible lines, or otherwise make the kinds of faux pas that result in irredeemable embarrassment. Think back. You know what I mean. We have all had those social moments when we would do anything to take back a distressing outcome. We said something we wished we could take back, used the wrong word, picked up the salad fork for the main course, or complimented the neighbor's pretty cat (which was really a dog).

If you have traveled, and spoken other languages, these things have happened to you more often than you care to remember. All it takes to mix up "button" and "trousers" in spoken Mandarin is the difference between the sounds ku and kou. Although I have told this before, I made quite a scene many years ago on a street corner in Taipei, when I asked why the shirts for sale didn't have trousers on the collars. "They are very convenient," I insisted. 
[c] Awkward RF

Come on. Out with it. You have done this, and quite possibly even in your native language.

Abashed—confused, ashamed, red cheek-inducing, awkward.

Oh, by the way, I love "awkward." Just ask my students in Anthropology 206: Social and Cultural Theory. As I like to tell them, they need to search for those awkward moments in life and research. We usually think of them as just personal errors, individual oddities, or misreadings of cues. No, they are theoretical gold if we pay attention. Watch the happy wedding couple as they fail in repeated attempts to light the candles of unity after their vows. Awkward (and worse). Watch the groom forget which hand he's supposed to put the ring on (this happened to me). 
[d] Possession RF

Awkward; abashed.

Cats never feel this. They are always self-confident little preeners. It has been this way since the first lion cub curled up with Grog back in the primordial cave. When Grog had a perfect shot at the mastodon, yet missed (wide right), he was abashed. Cub-kitten just prowled the cave with confidence, waiting for dinner (and, several years later, ate Grog as he slept).

Abashed. Cats don't feel this. Their humans do, though. 

Definition of ABASH 

American Heritage Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary**
**(Beloit College students and faculty: this is available through the library. Many other RSQ readers may find the link through a college, university, or local library). The "OED" is the best, by far, of any English language dictionary on the planet. Among mere mortals, the American Heritage is superior to anything else (I have loved it since I was a child, and my father taught me the many meanings of "culture"). I use the Merriam-Webster site because it is solid and everyone around the world can access it. Find your way to AHD or OED, though. The latter is even worth $295 a year (seriously). Words matter.
***  ***
Abash—it's all about humiliation and embarrassment.
[f] Gobsmacked RF

Now we come to the little twist that I didn't tell you about in the introduction to this series. If your native language is not English, go to the comments section and give a rough translation that "works" for you. I am hoping to get a whole passel of approximations for "abash" in languages ranging from Cantonese and Jin to Punjabi and Oriya. And of course they will be approximations. Language doesn't have any exact equivalents. That would be boring (try to find a carbon copy for "gobsmacked" for British astonishment's sake).

So what's a word that means something like "causing embarrassment" in your native language?

And, if you really want to think about how to make use of vocabulary, use a sentence that you might actually speak or write.

          Carolyn was abashed to find three glaring feline visages staring alternately 
          and accusingly at their empty bowl...and her. She apologized profusely and 
          broke open an emergency pack of Fancy Feast "Chicken and Cheddar 
          Cheese Feast."

Abashed. Cats never feel this.
[g] Unabashed RF

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