Friday, November 24, 2006

I've Got A Secret


There are a number of interesting terms denoting secrecy. Let’s focus on four of them in this posting.

furtive:
Done by stealth or with the hope of escaping observation. Originally a Greek word, it morphed into the Latin fur (thief) and furtum (robbery). Since then, the elements of hidden action and slyness have been emphasized.

covert:
Concealed, hidden, secret, disguised. The Latin verb co-operire ( to cover completely) is the parent of our word. In recent decades, "covert operations" has been a stock phrase for government/military actions.

surreptitious:
Clandestine, skulking, on the sly. The Latin words sub (under) and repere (to creep) combined to form this word. A snake in the grass comes to mind.

clandestine:
Secret, private, concealed. The Latin clandestinus (secret, private) provides a straight transaction here. Sometimes the word merely designates a fierce desire for privacy, as in a clandestine marriage, but clandestine council meetings are not appreciated by voters.

Of the four terms, covert is the most clinical, surreptitious introduces an undertone of extreme caution, clandestine often involves illicit actions, and furtive hints of guilt and evasion.


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