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Dec 22, 2003
This week's theme
Words to describe people

This week's words
sansculotte
oleaginous
rebarbative
debonair
ninnyhammer

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A.Word.A.Day
with Anu Garg

"Always remember that you are unique. Just like everyone else." Like all genuine humor, this waggish remark carries a grain of truth. There are six billion of us around, and we are very different - in our demeanor, diction, and dreams; in our fingerprints, retinal patterns, and DNA sequences.

Yet, no matter which hand we write with, what language we speak, or what we eat, there is something that binds us all, whether it is our preference for a life free from fear, our efforts to make this world better for us and for others, or our appreciation of beauty of the soul and our longing for love.

With so many people, so many shared traits, and so many differences, there's no wonder we have so many words to describe people. This week we look at five of them.

sansculotte

Pronunciation RealAudio

sansculotte also sans-culotte (sanz-kyoo-LOT) noun

1. An extreme radical republican during the French Revolution.

2. Any revolutionary with extremist views.

[From French, literally, without knee breeches. In the French Revolution, this was the aristocrats' term of contempt for the ill-clad volunteers of the Revolutionary army who rejected knee breeches as a symbol of the upper class and adopted pantaloons. As often happens with such epithets, the revolutionaries themselves adopted it as a term of pride.]

"`We were once told that we should eat breadcrumbs, and the lady who said that went to the guillotine,' remarks (slightly inaccurately) the sansculotte governor (Ame Carlson); `now we are being told the same thing again.'"
The Sansculotte Governor; The Economist (London, UK): Nov 29, 1997.

"Figaro for example is too delicate to bear the weight of a `concept,' especially if it encourages the producer to illustrate the corruption of the period or to represent the hero as a sansculotte manque who knows that his master's days are numbered."
Jonathan Miller; Doing Opera; The New York Review of Books; May 11, 2000.

X-Bonus

There is also this benefit in brag, that the speaker is unconsciously expressing his own ideal. Humor him by all means, draw it all out, and hold him to it. -Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer and philosopher (1803-1882)

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