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Animadvert

Pronounced /ˌanᵻmadˈvəːt/Help with pronunciation

Only a writer with an extensive vocabulary and the confidence to make use of it without sounding a prat will venture this verb. One such is the British journalist and author Will Self, though he says that he started using big words because he felt insecure.

Ralph imagines a conversation between Marcel Duchamp and Luis Buñuel, in which the venerable — and now, quite dead — Surrealists animadvert on the relationship between chance encounters, narrative and destiny.

Will Self in the Independent, 5 Jan. 2008.

His boldness is the more striking because he’s using animadvert in a way that’s considered obsolete — to comment upon something. Dictionaries say the only current sense is to criticise or pass censure on someone or something. This shift in sense parallels that of criticise, whose standard sense less than a century ago meant to judge the value of a work, a view that might be either positive or negative. Though that survives in literary and similar criticism, our carping age permits everyday criticism to be solely censorious. Those rare persons who — at the risk of sounding pompous — animadvert or create animadversions do so to disapprove.

The verb is from Latin animadvertere, to notice something or remark on a subject. It was created from animum, the mind, and advertere, to pay attention, hence to turn one’s mind to something. Even two thousand years ago, the Romans were using animadvertere to mean (adversely) criticise or even punish, so it’s surprising that animadvert ever had a neutral sense in English. Its second element is the root of advertise and advertisement, which at their most neutral contain the idea of making something known.

Ivor Brown, who wrote many books on the oddities of English, remarked of animadvert that “Surely the word animadvertisement should also exist” in the sense of a warning announcement or admonition. He surely hadn’t checked his Oxford English Dictionary, for it includes the word, though it’s firmly marked as obsolete and has its most recent example from 1661. I know of only one writer who has used it since, though his seems to be a neologistic blend of animated advertisement:

Flanked by an animadvertisement for deodorant pills and by a poster for Altars 0f the Heart, a newsscreen showed me its dormant glassy face.

The Continent of Lies, by James Morrow, 1984.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 23 Aug. 2014

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 23 August 2014.