To an artist, there is no higher form of censure or censorship that the callous destruction of one’s art.
Each week, “It’s not GREek!” will discuss a new word likely to appear on the GRE. We aim not only to give you a new word to memorize, but also to provide you with some background and etymological history to help you remember it. At the end of the post, we will also give you a sentence with a few other new words to add to your flash cards. By following this weekly series, you should be more prepared than ever to tackle the sentence completion, sentence equivalencies, and reading comprehension questions on test day.
This Week’s Word: Vituperation
Vituperation is a sustained and bitter railing and condemnation; it is also defined as a venomous censure. Etymological records date vituperation back to the mid-15th century, though indications are that it was rarely used before the early 19th century. Vituperation is a derivative of the Latin vituperationem, which roughly translates to “blame or censuring.”
Vtuperation can be defined as censure, but it is more commonly associated with the acts of reviling, vilifying, and addressing with harsh language.
Ashley Montagu (1905-1999), a famous anthropologist and humanist, was very familiar with the concept of vituperation. Born in East London, Ashley was often the subject of antisemitic taunts as a child; even later in his life, as a professor and academic, Montagu was subject to both social and professional censure. In Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: the Fallacy of Race (1942), Montagu questioned the validity of race as a biological concept. His theories were met with fiery vituperation by the McCarthyism-oriented culture of the early-to-mid 1950s, and Montagu was fired from his professorship at Rutgers University in 1955.
Montagu’s story was one of eventual success and social redemption (he was frequently a guest of “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson and won several Humanity awards for his work), but it is easy to understand why a man with a life like his would have a strong opinion on the topic of parochial condemnation and censorship.
Montagu makes a very interesting distinction between a vituperative act, like swearing, and the more personal malison of a curse; “The indications are that swearing preceded the development of cursing. That is, expletives, maledictions, exclamations, and imprecations of the immediately explosive or vituperative kind preceded the speechmaking and later rituals involved in the deliberate apportioning of the fate of an enemy. Swearing of the former variety is from the lips only, but the latter is from the heart. Damn it! is not the same as Damn you!”
Though Montagu seems to insist in this quote that vituperation lacks the personalization characteristic of a curse, that is a broadly academic and specifically etymological perspective to take. Though there may be a noteworthy contrast between a vituperation and a curse, if you see the word on the GRE you should treat them synonymously.
Vanessa’s vicious vituperation vilipended Vlad’s vain venerable veneer.
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