The Journal of Prevarication
Shedding the Shackles of Fact Since 1947
By Jim Cook
Official State Liar of Arizona
We love it when readers respond to the Journal.
Not knowing that he was going to become a straight man, Dr. Lee C. Drickamer, regents’ professor of biological sciences at Northern Arizona University, commented on our recent discussion of “cactus,” “cacti,” and “cactuses.”
“The plural of ‘octopus’ can be one of two things–but ‘octopi’ is not one of them,” Drickamer e-mailed. “‘Octopuses’ is acceptable, and this is what is generally used. Since the root word is Greek and not Latin, another correct form is ‘octopodes.’
Miss Ellie, who is always looking for a loophole, responded: “I went to the aquarium and saw more than one octopus.”
Heather Fairweather of Sangre Alto, California, writes: “We’re sick of the hazards of living in California–earthquakes, mudslides, and bridges falling on our heads. Do you have any of these perils in Arizona?”
There was one mudslide in the Torpor Mountains last winter. It sent up a hell of a dust cloud.
Roger M. of Bisbee wrote, “What does ‘prevarication’ mean? We used to have a dictionary, but my brother ate it. We couldn’t get a word out of him for weeks.
“Is ‘prevarication’ a real word? And how can you prevaricate if you’re lying all the time?”
Roger, most people will tell you that to prevaricate is to lie; to be false or untrue. But according to my nine-pound dictionary, to prevaricate is not so mendacious as that.
It means “to stray from or evade the truth; to equivocate.”
There are any number of ways to keep from using the simple word “lie.” Nobody really likes the word. I didn’t think about that when I took this job; I should have held out for the title Official State Equivocator.
In September, responding to a letter from a reader in Hawaii, we discussed Winston Churchill’s phrase “terminological inexactitude,” an eight-dollar euphemism he coined so that he wouldn’t have to come right out and say that another member of Parliament was lying.
Today’s politicians prefer “disingenuous.” If a senator wants to call a colleague from the other political party a lying polecat, he says, “John is a good friend of mine and a respected colleague, but he is being disingenuous about this dangerous piece of legislation.”
“Disingenuous” means “not being straightforward or candid; crafty.”
Breaking the word down, “Ingenuous” means unsophisticated, artless, perhaps naive. Maybe dumb.
We can’t get to the root of this word, because I can’t find a definition of “genuous.” Maybe some of our readers can help us out.