Wordsmith.org: the magic of words


About | Media | Search | Contact  


Today's Word

Yesterday's Word



Email this


Pronunciation Sound Clip RealAudio

Guest Wordsmith Philip Gooden (pgoodenATgooden.ndo.co.uk) writes:

Language gives a snub to borders in a way that is denied to any other human invention. There are no controls or checks to prevent words from crossing boundaries, there are no duties to be paid when phrases migrate from one culture to another. In the basic and simplest sense of the phrase, language is a free market. Among world languages, English has some claim to providing the freest market of them all, not only because it is compounded from a variety of sources but also because it has made itself open to linguistic influences from around the globe.

It is interesting to see how the different languages have come to be deployed in different fields. French is traditionally the language of diplomacy, of détente and démarche, but it is just as traditionally the language of sex and romance (billet doux; cinq-à-sept, describing the time late in the day when lovers traditionally meet). Latin, functional and precise, provides us with many of the abbreviations we still use (e.g., i.e., etc.) as well as a number of legal terms. From Spanish come a handful of "masculine" terms like macho and cojones. At times it is difficult to avoid the feeling that an entire culture may be contained within an expression that remains tantalisingly elusive even when translated. One thinks of the sombre northern European quality of the German Weltschmerz or the way an entire (Mediterranean) quality of life seems to be embodied in the Italian dolce far niente (literally, sweet doing nothing).

apparatchik (uh-pah-RAH-chik) noun

Member of the (Soviet) bureaucracy; now extended to apply to any inflexible organisation man, particularly in a political party.

[From Russian apparat (apparatus, the government machine or structure) + chik (agent).]

Like other terms deriving from the USSR such as nomenklatura (list of important positions to be filled by people from the party), apparatchik is always used pejoratively. It suggests a bureaucrat who willingly follows and implements the party line, either in a spirit of blind obedience or one of cynical ambition. As an insult for a person sitting in an office, it's stronger and more exotic than "suit" or "jobsworth".

(Philip Gooden is a writer and editor, who produces historical whodunnits and writes reference books on the English language. He is the author of "Who's Whose?", "Faux Pas?" and the forthcoming "Name Dropping?". He lives in Bath, England.)

"When we meet Ian McKellen's grey-haired Paul, he's sitting with a grey face in a grey suit behind a grey-looking desk and sounding like the grey apparatchik he obviously is."
Benedict Nightingale; The Cut; The Times (London, UK); Mar 2, 2006.


You must accept the truth from whatever source it comes. -Maimonides (Moses ben Maimon), philosopher (1135-1204)

We need your help

Help us continue to spread the magic of words to readers everywhere


Subscriber Services
Awards | Stats | Links | Privacy Policy
Contribute | Advertise

© 1994-2024 Wordsmith