In a word: excrescence

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: 


Last week I was writing about excrescences in the Associated Press Stylebook. That was not complimentary. Though the Latin root, excrescere, "to grow" or "grow out" give rise to an early sense, "the act of growing," negativity quickly crept in.

"The act of growing," the Oxford English Dictionary says, came to indicate "immoderate or abnormal increase," ultimately "an abnormal, morbid, or disfiguring outgrowth."

As you may imagine, the word also took on a figurative sense, often used in literary criticism to condemn excesses of prose.

Example: From Samuel Butler (the Hudibras Butler, not the Way of All Flesh Butler) in 1680: "Pedantry is but a corn or wart, / Bred in the skin of Judgement, Sense, and Art, / A stupified Excrescence, like a Wen, Fed by the peccant Humours of learn'd Men." 

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