Daily Archives: November 21, 2008

fatuous

You could guess at this word’s meaning by appearance, but that would be silly. It does seem to ask disingenuously, “Who’s fat? You? Us?” And certainly it seems a bit pudgy, with its baggy-cheek u‘s and its o like a hungry mouth. But clap the s on like a hand, Benny or Culkin style, and you know the mouth is agape in daft wonder. And if the uous is a head, the fat is its metaphorical descriptor. This is a lovely word in that it can make the object appear foolish (perhaps in a John Candy kind of way) and the speaker appear pretentious simultaneously. No wonder it’s so useful to academic argument. It is quite promiscuous, though it does have one regular flame – fire. That coupling is really a pair of Latin lovers, however: ignis fatuus is the more standard term for what is also called Will-o’-the-wisp, a spectral mirage caused by, well, swamps farting and lighting it. Does that sound dreadfully inane? Well, fatuus, after all, is Latin for “foolish” or “idiotic.”