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alienist (AYL-yuh-nist) noun

A psychiatrist, especially one who has been accepted by a court to assess mental competence of those appearing in court regarding a case.

[From French aliéniste (alienist), from Latin alienatus, past participle of alienare (to estrange), from Latin alienus (alien). Why this word? Because an alienist treats those who are believed to be alienated from their normal state of mind.]

"At the same time, Mr. Letterman makes it clear that he is quite aware that only jerks would stay up late to watch him display 'Stupid Pet Tricks' or to drop watermelons from great heights. Those who grasp this are therefore obliged to laugh at themselves as well, a practice recommended by many alienists but infrequently adopted by them or anyone else."
George V. Higgins; The Clown Prince of Late Night Television; The Wall Street Journal (New York); Aug 5, 1985.

"(T.E. Lawrence) To Lionel Curtis: 'When my mood gets too hot I haul out my motorbike and hurl it at top speed over these unfit roads hour after hour... I wish you were an alienist and could tell me how or when this ferment will end.'"
Warren O. Ault; T.E. Lawrence: The Sword and the Pen; The Washington Post; May 21, 1989.

Your friend has just received a check for a million dollars and is unreachable. What are you going to do? I faced that problem years ago, when, a newcomer to the US, I shared an apartment with another graduate student. The supposed millionaire was traveling for a symposium when I found that large envelope in our mailbox. I could see the check through the window on the envelope.

Well, the check isn't going to expire in a couple of days, I figured, and let it rest on the kitchen table. Soon, the rightful owner of the envelope came back, and the mystery was solved. It turned out to be one of those hoax letters sent by businesses that encourage people to sign-up for magazines with the lure of a big check.

Eventually, my mail-sense sharpened and today I can tell just by looking at the envelope if it needs a letter-opener or the round file. Many of these letters begin,

    Dear Anu,
    We've reserved this exclusive offer for you as a preferred member...
Well, who is trying to fool whom, I wonder. How do they expect us to trust them when almost always there turns out to be a fine-print, a catch, an exception? Wouldn't it be a refreshing change if they simply advertised "you get x for y dollars," without any need for a gimmick? Wouldn't it be a breath of fresh air if we could rest assured that what was written in the bold letters was what they meant?

In this week's theme we feature words that aren't what they appear to be.

-Anu Garg


The best way to predict the future is to invent it. -Alan Kay, inventor (1940- )

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