Saturday, May 20, 2017


Van from Petoskey was curious about the word embarrass. It seems to have come into English from the French, but it has cousins in Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. It now means to make a person or institution feel awkward or self-conscious, but that meaning evolved over time.

Originally, it meant to impede progress by putting up a barrier of some kind. The Portuguese equivalent, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, referred to restraining animals with a leash or cord. In 18th century England, a road would be embarrassed if it was blocked by fallen trees or an avalanche of rocks.

Being blocked, literally or metaphorically, would lead to confusion and uncertainty. It would stymie and perplex a person, and the inability to act would make him or her feel helpless, leading to a feeling of inadequacy.

These feelings often trigger the fight-or-flight response. The subsequent release of chemicals often causes an embarrassed person to blush as blood flow increases to the blood vesels in the cheeks.

The suggestion that embarrassment must involve exposed buttocks is not seated in reality.

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about a month’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.


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