Academic journal article The Hudson Review

The Origin of the Specious

Academic journal article The Hudson Review

The Origin of the Specious

Article excerpt

Language is fossil poetry.

-Emerson, The Poet

You'd think English was alive and well

looking at its evolution and the coinages

that provide livelihood for lexicographers,

who scramble to keep up with the glamazons

flaunting their corporate ambitions

and pushed-up breasts, and all the surfers

googling the latest star to break the headlines.

Tomorrow, new specimens will be discovered:

perhaps the gender-neutral pronoun

that has eluded us, or tenses and cases

to account for time travel's permutations.

Yet here in the noughties, it's not the accretions

that I ponder, but the fallen: words like specious,

which once meant "resplendent with beauty,"

without qualification. Centuries ago,

before the word became a diminished thing,

a lad could use it to describe the lass

he had just married, believing

her essence and appearance were one;

and the speciousness of a dinner host

would inspire guests to be as nice to their families

as they were to their neighbors.

In The Tempest, Miranda first addresses Prospero

with the formal you, never having encountered

an equal; he, in turn, addresses her as thee,

and she perceives his affection as specious,

unaware of his designs. …

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