This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Thing Not To Be Today: scabrous.

Here's a satisfying word: scabrous.

It can mean scaly, or rough in a way that looks quite scaly. This is no surprise: you can hear the roughness of the scaly surface as you say the word.

Not many of us have scales (except, almost universally, on our eyes) but the word scabrous has acquired other, linked, meanings. It can mean indecent, as in a scabrous joke. Scabrous is a rather useful word in this context because it doesn't necessarily point an accusing finger in quite the same way as the words indecent or indelicate do.

The trouble starts if you use scabrous in its third meaning, which means difficult to solve. A scabrous problem presents the user with, well, a scabrous problem: is your problem merely a problem that's really hard to resolve? Or is your scabrous problem an indelicate one? 

Not that I can imagine an indelicate problem that isn't tricky to solve.

So there we are. Scabrous: lovely on the tongue, but liable to cause problems.

If you see what I mean.

File:Iberian worm lizard.jpg
Iberian Worm Lizard. Photo by Richard Avery

Thing Probably Not To Be Today: scabrous. This word comes from the Latin scaber, which means rough. 

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