Monday, February 1, 2010

Agonizing Reapprisal

A BBC announcer—one of those news readers who Dylan Thomas said sound as if they “have the Elgin marbles in their mouths”—recently reported that the U. S.  Secretary of Defense had been “appraised” of a bombing in Afghanistan.  How much will you bet that’s not what was meant?

Appraise means “to set a value on, to evaluate the worth or significance of, or to give an expert judgment about.”  Its root is Anglo French appreiser, meaning  “to prize or to praise.”  Your gorgeous new home, with the cathedral ceilings, four working fireplaces, Calder mobiles, Aubusson tapestries, Jacuzzi tub, Persian carpeted walk-in closet, and Olympic-sized infinity swimming pool will certainly be appraised by appropriate taxing authorities—and when they have appraised it, they will apprise you of their appraisal, which will be much higher than you would like. Apprise means “to inform or tell, give notice to,” and its root is the French appris, past participle of apprendre, “to learn or to teach.”

There’s no question that the Secretary of Defense would have to appraise the situation in Afghanistan, but one hopes it would be only after he had been apprised of what was going on there.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou thinks such distinctions are pedantic, and he obviously went off on a tangent (a scarlet one, no doubt) before he was apprehended and appropriately sedated:

            Appraise a prize
            Then raise your eyes
            And apprise me of your praise.
            Then rise and raze
            The rows of prose
            That rose in prime arrays.


  1. Although it is brilliantly colored the scarlet tangent is frequently overlooked because of its secretive habits. So if you go off on a tangent it is probably wise to go off on a scarlet one--most folks won't notice.


  2. A negative apprisal may earn swift reprisal.