In a word: palaver

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: 


People will talk, and a lot of it does not amount to much. So we have palaver (pronounced puh-LAV-er), which Merriam-Webster's Unabridged  identifies as "profuse, idle, or worthless talk," or chatter. It can also mean "misleading or beguiling speech." 

The word, which came into English in the mid-eighteenth century from the Portuguese palavra ("word," "speech"), originally meant "an often prolonged parley usually between persons of different levels of culture or sophistication (as between a 19th century European trader and natives of the African west coast)." 

As a verb, it can mean, in the intransitive sense, to talk profusely or idly, or to beguile. In the transitive sense, it can mean to cajole or wheedle, to palaver someone into doing something. 

Example: From "Limbo," an essay by Bernardine Connelly in the Winter 2012 issue of Michigan Quarterly Review: "If I hadn’t gone to Chiapas, especially knowing that what the people there needed was just the capital and market access without all the palaver, ribbon-cutting, and awkward moments of crass capitalism disguised as intercultural dialogue, then Lily and Dad would never have crossed paths again."

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad