Thursday, May 22, 2014

Untenable or Untenuous?

Steve from Traverse City called in to say that he heard President Obama misusing a word. Steve thought he heard the President say that “we are facing an untenuous fiscal situation.”

My first reaction was to agree that untenuous is simply not a word. There is the word tenuous, which means slender, weak, insubstantial. It came from the Latin tenuis, thin.  But it is not negated by adding the prefix un-.

Later, it occurred to me that the President might have used the word untenable. That came from the Latin verb tenere, to hold. Untenable is equivalent to indefensible, incapable of being supported. So I turned to a search engine and found the following in a Reuters News report:

"I realize that we are facing an untenable fiscal situation," he told a meeting of his economic recovery advisory board to discuss strengthening the partnership between community colleges and the private sector. "What I won't do is cut back on investments like education."

It turns out that he didn’t use untenuous after all.

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

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