Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Words I'm Looking Up (One in an occasional series on words I'm looking up)

adj. [Slang] displaying a contrived, often pretentious, sophistication,
opulence, etc.
-- Webster's New World College dictionary

This caught my eye as I was looking up another word. Like any self-respecting 11-year-old, I had to stop.

To the grown-up part of me, one of the most interesting things is that comma after "pretentious." I'm not sure that's not a typo. Since when do you put a comma between a modifier and its immediately following subject? Even if there's more than one adjective, you usually don't.

a tall, powerful man.

Not: a tall, powerful, man.


I also find it surprising that the definition doesn't contain more emphasis on ... hmmm ... well ... scumminess. Seems like this should describe Cletus on "The Simpsons" scooping up a dead raccoon with a shovel and saying, "Girly Sue's gonna have an elegant wedding feast!"

Most surprising, though, is that this is the first word I've come across that is in my Webster's New World College Dictionary that's not in its computer version -- which came from a disk which came with that same book. Odd.

By the way, I found piss-elegant while looking up:

piste (always italicized, on account of it's a French word not used enough by English speakers to justify calling it an English word -- think "ennui.")

n. a ski run of hard-packed snow -- Webster's New World College

Yes, it had potential. But in the end, it definitely was not as much fun as piss-elegant.


Anonymous said...


In this case, wouldn't the commas be used to set off the phrase "often pretentious" as additonal--a parenthetical element--to the definition? Simply adding extra emphasis to an occasion of "contrived sophistication"?

What an awesome word! Thanks for the great blog! Your posts are a witty relief from the hum-drum of the classroom.

Anonymous said...


In this case, wouldn't the commas be used to set off the phrase "often pretentious" from the rest of the definition--an additional parenthetical element? Simply emphasizing an occasion of "contrived sophistication"?

Thanks for the awesome blog--your posts are quite the witty relief from the sometimes hum-drum classroom!

June Casagrande said...


I don't know if commas would set off "often pretentious" as much as introduce it. (The difference being that "set off" suggests a pair of commas.)

"He was a pompous, loud, often pretentious man."

No comma after pretentious.

Again, I just can't seem to get comfortable second-guessing Webster's (especially on so little caffeine). Good chance the error is mine.

Thanks for the comment!


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