Monday, May 7, 2012



This means a sort of playful teasing and talking back-and-forth in a fun way.  It is sort of like tossing a ball from one person to the other, except there's not really a ball.  There's just words.  Another word for badinage is repartee.

The word came from the French word badiner, which means "to jest" or "to banter."  And badiner comes from the Old Provençal word badar, which means "to gape."  I'm not sure what gaping has to do with jesting, but I am just telling you what my research said.


Persiflage means pretty much the same thing as badinage.  It is light, silly conversation or friendly teasing.  This word also comes from the French, and I think this must be because French people have always liked sitting around in their fancy drawing rooms and talking to each other with witty repartee.  Anyway, the original French word is persifler, which means "to tease."  This word contains siffler, which is the French word for "to whistle."  Siffler is from Old French and also from the Late Latin word sfilre.


If you just look at this word, you might think it has to do with baths, which I personally hate, but I am happy to tell you that bathos is about literary style and not about soap and water.  In Greek, bathos means "depth," so I'm guessing that it is the same root word where we got the word bath.  But if you are dealing with bathos, you don't have to worry about getting shampoo in your eyes.

So anyway, what bathos means is a sort of speech or writing that is going along, talking about important things, and then suddenly, it is talking about trivial stuff.  Sometimes this is done on purpose in order to be humorous.  But other times it might happen because somebody is just a bad writer.

Here's an example of bathos from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams:  "The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't."

A lot of times, stuff that's campy or kitschy could be called bathos.  One example would be something serious such as a painting of The Last Supper that's printed on a silly item like a dish towel.  Or another example is if you have something that looks like a gun, but when you pull the trigger, one of those little flags pops out that says "bang!"

The word bathos can also be used to describe something that is trite or flat or insincere, or else something that is too emotional or sentimental.


It's easy to get the words pathos and bathos mixed up, and that's because they look almost alike.  But pathos is never insincere, like bathos is.  Pathos comes from the Greek word páthos, which means "suffering" or "sensation."  When someone speaks or writes with pathos, they are trying to appeal to the audience's emotions.  The writer or speaker wants other people to understand how he feels, and then to feel the same way.

So for example, if you were writing about a poor, homeless dog, you might say something like this:  "He moved warily along the street, head held low.  His ribs stuck out sharply through the dirty, matted coat."

If you use the adjective pathetic, then you can mean something like "deserving pity."  But you might also mix some contempt and scorn in with the pity.  Like for instance, "Her attempts to make the dog trade its freshly-killed rabbit for a stale dog biscuit were pathetic."


Mom recently re-read one of her favorite books, which is called Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë.  This book was full of words that Mom and I don't know very well, so we made a list, and you may be seeing some of these words in my future blog entries about Interesting Words.  Anyway, in Jane Eyre, one thing that Mr. Rochester says more than once is, "I don't care a fillip about that."  So Mom and I thought that a fillip must be something small that doesn't have much value.

Well, it turned out we were mostly wrong about fillip.  Because one thing it means is that action humans do when they put the fingernail of one finger against the ball of their thumb, and then they flick the finger.  This action has all sorts of practical uses, such as thumping someone on the head or flipping a bug off your sandwich.  I'm a little sad that dogs can't do a fillip, but our paws are just not built the right way.

Anyway, Mom was shocked to learn that there was actually a name for this finger-flicking thing.  One dictionary we looked at online said the word was archaic, so that would mean that not many people use it nowadays.  But besides filliping with your finger, it turns out that you can fillip in other ways.  For example, if you lowered sales taxes, that might fillip purchases.  So a fillip can be anything that boosts or excites or stimulates.  Also, it can improve a situation or encourage someone.

And then, finally, we found a definition that seemed to be what Mr. Rochester was saying, and this definition said, "One that is trivial or of little importance."

The origin of fillip is in the 15th century.  It supposedly imitated the sound someone makes as they flick or snap their fingers.  When Mom fillips with her finger and thumb, it doesn't make much of a sound at all.  When she snaps her fingers, that sound is sort of like the word snap, but it doesn't really sound like fillip at all, if you ask me.  But as usual, nobody asked me!


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