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You Don't Say
John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.
NewsYou Don't Say

In a word: nettle

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: 

NETTLE

People who offer unsound advice about English usage will tell you to keep nouns as nouns and verbs as verbs, but English is more protean than that. 

This week's word, nettle (pronounced NET-uhl), a verb meaning to irritate, annoy, vex,* or provoke, comes to us from a noun, the nettle, a weed, genus Urtica, which bears stinging hairs. 

The verb, back in the sixteenth century, had a literal meaning, to sting with nettles, for punishing someone or making a horse run faster, as well as the metaphoric one. 

Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1 has "I am whipt and scourg'd with rods, / Nettled and stung with pismires, when I hear / Of this vile politician Bolingbroke."

And Ben Jonson's Poetaster offers "I knowe this nettles you now; but answere mee."

Example: From Newsweek of Nov. 25, 2001: "One exception to the no-second-guesses rule: Bush clearly remains nettled by criticisms that he didn't immediately return to Washington on 9-11."

 

 

*Vex, another fine word, we have from the Latin vexare, "to shake or agitate." 


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