verecund

Unless you know Latin, this word is not very forthcoming about its meaning. It’s rather shy, or perhaps coy. You see that cund and probably think of rubicund and jocund and fecund – all adjectives describing tendencies or states: reddishness, humour, fertility. But what is this vere? Has it to do with truth, springtime, worms?

It seems so shifty. The v is a v-neck, revealing some, concealing the rest, leading the eyes to a point where they must be cut off. The e and e seem like the shifty, peering, evading eyes. The r somehow looks to me not like a nose between the eyes but like a pistol holstered. Right in the middle! What could it mean? The c gets a line and stops up as d; the open u flips and becomes the closed n (unless you look from beneath). You thought this would be easy but this word wants to throw you a curve to the end.

So you say it. You start by biting the lip – such a shy or coy gesture – and then the tongue lolls up and down but knocks at the back before finally ending on the tip. Ah, what is on the tip of your tongue? It may be verecund but it is not very kind!

Well, here is the key: the Latin etymon is vereri, verb, ‘fear, reverence’. So this word means tending to fear? Close enough… what it means is ‘shy, bashful, modest’. Or – and this is to the others as a kitten is to a baby bunny – ‘coy’. Coy indeed… making people run to a dictionary to find out what you, in your ostentatiously erudite way, are saying.

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