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

In a word: purblind

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:

PURBLIND

Middle English combined pur, “pure,” with blind to make purblind (pronounced PURR-blind).

The word originally meant “completely blind,” but that sense is entirely archaic. Over time the meaning evolved to mean “partly blind” or “dim-sighted.” Today it usually means “slow-witted,” “deficient in understanding or imagination.” A close synonym is obtuse.

Example: From “Bums of the Year: Congress” in Time, 1992: “Is there a case to be made for the Keating Five and the way those purblind Senators opened their doors to convicted savings and loan rip-off artist Charles Keating—not to mention the purblind way in which the Senate ethics committee investigated the offense?”

Historical note: Charles Keating was a vigorous anti-pornography crusader in Cincinnati. Later, after moving to Arizona, he became enmeshed in the savings-and-loan scandal of the 1980s and, like so many other crusaders for virtue, proved to be a little lax in his commercial ethics and spent time in jail. Always keep a close eye on crusaders for virtue, and a hand on your wallet.

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