Monday, May 26, 2008


Benedict Arnold

On last Tuesday’s show, a caller asked about the word tergiversation, verb form to tergiversate. He read it in an editorial.

It is composed of two Latin roots, tergum, the back, and versare, to turn. The phrase “to turn one’s back on someone” may be viewed as a literal translation. The meanings given in dictionaries cover a somewhat wider range.

• to be ambiguous in order to withhold information; equivocate; use subterfuge.
• to shift or shuffle
• to turn the back (for flight or retreat).
• to desert one's party, turn renegade, apostatize.

On air, I dredged my memory and came up with “running in circles, like a dog chasing its own tail.” The Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t support that; so much for trusting an aging memory.

John Dyson, retired professor from Indiana University, reminded me that the word that covers the dog is circumvolution. Ever inventive and witty, Professor Dyson gave me the answer in C & W form:

The Circumvolvin' Blues

My dog Shepehs don't circulate like other doggies do; He
won't go out and meet new pals and sniff strange pee and poo.
The only hinder parts he knows are at his nether end, But his
nose is short and what he seeks is always 'round the bend.


Shepehs makes crop circles in the neighbors' yard and mine,
He'd make a furry yo-yo if I had a mile of twine.
I love my dizzy canine, he's a metapher fer hope:
He teaches me to persevere, to dog it and to cope.
His energy's unflaggin', his waggin' is unbound, He shows me
that what goes around will always come around.
He shows me that what goes around will always come around.

Now you know what retired professors enamored of palindromes do in their spare time.

SIDEBAR: Tory Tergiversation In The House Of Lords, 1714-1760

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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