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Oct 3, 2022
This week’s theme
Words that have changed

This week’s words
ludicrous
jaunty
hipster
decarbonize
surly

ludicrous
“Ludicrous Performance” (Tesla ad)
Photo: antmoose

Previous week’s theme
Words to describe people
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A.Word.A.Day
with Anu Garg

The other day I came across an ad for Tesla touting its Ludicrous Performance. I did a double take. Was this a new sense of the word “ludicrous” I wasn’t familiar with?

Language evolves. The words “awesome” and “awful” today have opposite senses, but over their hundreds of years of history, both have taken turns going positive and negative, like two sine waves drifting back and forth around an axis (though of different wavelengths, and not as smoothly).

I figured the word “ludicrous” was being used in the sense of ridiculously good. Both have somewhat similar origins: ludicrous from Latin ludere (to play) and ridiculous from ridere (to laugh).

Turns out Teslas have an official Ludicrous Mode. The history of this terminology involves the film Spaceballs (a parody of Star Wars). In the film, space travelers go at ludicrous speed (movie clip, 3 min.), which, as they describe it, is faster-than-light speed. (If the Ludicrous Mode isn’t fast enough for you, Tesla has a Ludicrous Plus too.)

Will this Teslaesque sense of the word ludicrous take root? Only time will tell. But the word has already changed meaning in the past. Earlier ludicrous means sportive, so in a way, the word fits when applied to a fast car.

This week we share with you words that now have different connotations from where they started.

ludicrous

PRONUNCIATION:
(LOO-di-kruhs)

MEANING:
adjective: So absurd as to provoke laughter.

ETYMOLOGY:
In the beginning the word meant sportive. From Latin ludere (to play). Ultimately from Indo-European root leid- (to play), which also gave us allude, delude, elude, illusion, ludicrous, Ludo, collusion, ludic, and prelude. Earliest documented use: 1619.

USAGE:
“He could have just taken my word and not dragged us all through that ludicrous charade.”
Wendy Wax; Leave it to Cleavage; Bantam; 2004.

See more usage examples of ludicrous in Vocabulary.com’s dictionary.

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
Once a country is habituated to liars, it takes generations to bring the truth back. -Gore Vidal, writer (3 Oct 1925-2012)

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