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Author's Speak - Deepti Menon
Deepti Menon

 

A blog series exploring the etymology of some interesting words

 

Are You a Wordsmith?

 

Newspapers are a wonderful source of new words, and English being a highly receptive language, is ready to welcome new words all the time.  I have a morning ritual that consists of reading the newspaper along with my morning cuppa. I try and jot down words which I am not quite aware of, and end the ritual with my final guilty pleasure, Sudoku.

So, here are some words that I encountered during that ritual. 

 

  1. Dystopia: /dis/to/pi/a/ - An imaginary world where people lead lives that are dehumanized, filled with fear or unpleasantness, a place where people are treated in an unjust or unfair manner, a totalitarian society which is an environmental disaster.
    The opposite of this concept is Utopia, first used by Sir Thomas More in his work by the same name, which denoted an ideal society in a perfect world. John Stuart Mill combined ‘dys +Utopia’ to coin a new word, ‘Dystopia’, denoting ‘anti-utopia.
    Adjective – dystopian
    Noun: dystopianism
    Synonyms: pandemonium, displacement, hell, a dysfunctional state
    It is traumatic for a human being to live within a dystopian society.
    Under that beautiful façade in which she lives, there lurks a dystopia that is horrifying.

    Some novels that deal with dystopia are Aldoux Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’, George Orwell’s ‘1984’ and Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’.


     
  2. Maverick: /mav/rik/or /mav/e/rik/ - A person who believes in independent thought and action, who refuses to play by the rules or toe the line The word can be used as a noun and as an adjective.
    Synonyms: free-spirit, an unconventional person, a non-conformist, a bohemian, a loose cannon, a rebel
    Etymology: It was American pioneer, Samuel A Maverick (1870), whose name came to signify this word. It is said that, unlike his contemporaries, he refused to brand his cows and calves. So, the word ‘maverick’ initially referred to an unbranded cow, a loner that did not run with the pack.
    Later on, it expanded to mean a person who was unafraid to cross the line, and attained results through his unorthodox methods.
    When the heroine turned maverick, breaking away from her usual kind of roles, she lost a large number of her fans.
    When the popular writer refused to change a single line of her novel, she was dubbed a maverick.
    Who can forget the mesmeric Mr. Snape, Alan Rickman, who was known for his charisma and his quotes? As he once put it, “Maverick is a word which appeals to me more than misfit. Maverick is active, misfit is passive.” 


     
  3. Gaslight:  /gas/lait/ -There are two meanings here, one literal, the other psychological.
  • A light that uses gas as fuel, an object that produces light by burning gas, used in the earlier centuries
  • To trick someone into believing that they are wrong or ill, even if it is not true, to brainwash, to sow the seeds of doubt in a person and make them distrust their own memory

    Synonyms: manipulation, mind games, psychological abuse

    Let’s deal with the psychological angle here, which is way more interesting. This word came from the Patrick Hamilton play ‘Gas Light’ (1938), in which a husband deviously played with his wife’s emotions, even as he tampered with the gaslights in the house, and made her believe that she was slowly going insane. In 1944, it was adapted into a movie, which was nominated for seven Oscars and won the Academy Awards for Best Actress and Best Production design. The ravishing Ingrid Bergman and the hypnotic Charles Boyer starred in the movie. Do watch a significant scene from the movie from the link.

    Examples:
    When the psychiatrist spoke to the man who was terrified of his own shadow, he realized that he was being gaslighted by his closest friend.
    The despotic boss tried to gaslight his employee by reminding him that he had asked him to prepare a certain report weeks ago.


     

Deepti Menon ia an editor and author based in Chennai. She has written two books, Arms and the Woman and Shadow in the MirrorMany of her short stories can be found within the pages of popular anthologies like 21 Tales to TellChronicles of Urban Nomads, Mango ChutneyCrossed and Knotted (India's first composite novel that has found a place in the Limca Book of Records), Rudraksha, Upper CutDefiant DreamsWhen They Spoke, and many others.