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

In a word: surreptitious

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:


Not all things are done in the open. Some things are done by stealth, secretly, clandestinely, without authorization, because they would not be approved of. Such actions are surreptitious (pronounced sur-uhp-TISH-us).

Latin is the ancestor: surreptitious, from surripere: sub “secretly” plus rapere “seize.”

Example: From Randy Kennedy, “When Art’s Muse Worked Up a Sweat,” The New York Times 2015: “With that in mind—and with the labors of fall approaching—maybe the tour should end with an image from Walker Evans’s ‘Many Are Called,’ the 1938 project in which he took surreptitious portraits on the New York City subway, that great Nile of urban workers.”

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