In the news · Word of the week

Word of the week: egregious

“Egregious” is a word that I have never heard in day-to-day conversation, or on the radio or on TV. I have seen it in print and didn’t know what it meant until looking it up last Friday. It came up in this Guardian piece about racism by the always excellent Gary Younge, in the following sentence:

“Almost every day the US president says something egregious about one minority or another only to have the Trump whisperers in the Republican party and Fox News explain why, whatever else it was, it definitely wasn’t racist.”

The Oxford Dictionaries website defines egregious as: “outstandingly bad; shocking”. Interestingly, it also gives an archaic meaning of “remarkably good”. So here’s a word that has come to mean the opposite of its original meaning, just like bad or sick in recent decades. In the case of egregious the word used to mean good but now it means bad (in the old-fashioned sense).

I read the Gary Younge piece online and encountered the word again later the same day, in the Guardian’s print version. In the Films & Music supplement there was a short list of “The worst Oscar snubs ever” by Ryan Gilbey. “Taxi Driver” was in 6th place and the online version, here, has the following explanation. (It’s longer than the print version.)

“Martin Scorsese has had a rum old time of it at the Oscars, forever losing out in the best picture category to vastly inferior films: Raging Bull was beaten by the facile psychotherapy drama Ordinary People, Goodfellas by the narcissistic western Dances With Wolves. The most egregious loss has to be his expressionistic character study Taxi Driver being pipped at the post by Rocky: not a terrible film by any means, but hardly in the same class.

Encountering a word twice in one day is enough reason to make it a Word of the Week. I will listen out for it in the weeks ahead but am unlikely to use it in conversation, despite now knowing what it means. I will continue to use more familiar terms for things that are “outstandingly bad”, words like “shocking”, or (a particular favourite) “brutal”. Neither of these words has yet appeared with that meaning in the 300,000 words posted so far on this Blog, a sign that I have not spent too much about writing about the things that really bug me. Accentuate the positive, eliminate the egregious, to paraphrase the great lyricist Johnny Mercer.


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