Don’t Be Supercilious

Sometimes when people have a large vocabulary or use ‘big’ words, they tend to be supercilious. They act like they are smarter than others. Tsk, tsk, tsk. It shouldn’t be that way! The purpose to increase your vocabulary is to broaden your understanding of words you encounter in your reading and to allow you to better express yourself both in spoken and written word.

Supercilious (soo-per-sil-ee-uhs) is an adjective that means haughty, disdainful, or contemptuous. It also means scornful and arrogant. You could express disdain for a certain movie like Napoleon Dynamite, a make of car, a type of food like beets, or a computer operating system. If you did, you would be supercilious.

Sometimes a person could be supercilious and not have a general overall haughty personality all of the time. Just because a person is supercilious at one moment in time about one thing doesn’t mean he is supercilious at all times. Let’s hope not! If he is, he might not have too many close friends!

Let’s take a little side trip to Latin to understand this word . It is most interesting! If you can remember where it comes from, it will be much easier to remember the definition.

Supercilious is the adjective form of the noun supercilium. Supercilium is the eyebrow or the region of the eyebrows. It comes from the Latin word ‘cilium’ that means eyelid. ‘Super’ is a Latin prefix with a basic meaning of above or beyond. So supercilium means raising the eyebrow above the normal area. If a person is supercilious – or haughty, or scornful, or arrogant — he might raise an eyebrow to express his disdain. That would be one way to show contempt or arrogance. So, remember the eyebrow and you’ll remember what supercilious means!

The next word is portentous (pohr-ten-tuhs). Portentous is an adjective that means ominously significant, threatening, or foreboding. The battle on Iwo Jima was portentous to the outcome of World War II. The war against marriage is portentous to families and to our society. It is significantly ominous! The current illegal immigration situation here in the United States is a portentous situation.

Another side trip into the land of Latin is needed. Latin tells us that this word comes from portentosus, which means a sign or an omen. So it is easy to see how we got our English version that means foreboding and ominous.

Something or someone who is of momentous significance or is amazing or marvelous could be considered portentous. I recently read a newspaper article about the CEO, David Neeleman, of JetBlue and how he handled the recent problems with his company. Apparently, many flights were canceled. Many customers were stranded for ten hours on an airplane sitting on the tarmac. Neeleman appeared on the David Letterman show and on national morning news shows to apologize and guaranteed reimbursement for those canceled flights. Neeleman is of momentous significance. His guarantee of reimbursement is portentous. Because he has the courage to publicly admit his company made a mistake and then to promise to rectify the situation, he is marvelous and amazing. That’s portentous.

The last word is purlieu. Purlieu (pur-loo) is a noun that means environment or neighborhood. It describes a place that one frequents. Costa Vita, Café Rio, the Olive Garden are eateries that are within my purlieu. Moab, Utah, is within my family’s purlieu. Tahiti is becoming part of my purlieu . . . Malls, gas stations, movie theaters, and friends homes could also be considered part of a person’s purlieu.

And what does Latin have to say about this word?? ‘Lieu’ in Latin means place. ‘Pur’ is a variation of pro, which means in favor of. If you are in favor of a place, you like it and most certainly often go there! Thus, purlieu describes places that you like and visit on a regular basis.

Doesn’t all this just make you want to take a class to learn Latin???


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