In a word: captious

The Baltimore Sun

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your vocabulary. This week's word: 


Apologies for the delay with this week''s word. I returned to Baltimore late last night, having narrowly survived a family vacation in Chicago. (May you never be seated immediately in front of a voluble child with restless-leg syndrome.) And early this morning I had to prep the copy editing class for Thursday's midterm examination, poor souls. 

Discussions of grammar and usage--not here, mnind you, but in less civilized venues--often attract captious personalities. The American Heritage Dictionary helpfully tells us that captious (pronounced KAP-shus) means disposed to find and point out trivial faults.

Another sense is "intended to trap or confuse." This comes from the Latin captiosus, captio, "seize" or "sophism." Those who would brandish their grammatical superiority over you are always aware of the little traps you will blunder into because of your insufficient education and sophistication. They expect not only your respect and deference, but your gratitude. 

Example: From The Southern Review in 1998 (how little changes): The Right was mean-spirited and irrelevant. The Left was captious and irrelevant. The heavy center was asleep."

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