Misapprehension of Words


I was thinking the other day (when my brain isn’t busy doing stuff), about how long a person can go on with a misapprehension of a word. Of course, when you come across a word you don’t know, you can either look it up in the dictionary, or figure out the meaning from context. What amazes me is how I can get the absolutely wrong meaning from so many contexts that I never realize that I even have the wrong meaning!

For example…


From Firefly
Zoe: “You sanguine about the kind of reception we’re apt to receive on an Alliance ship, Cap’n?”
Mal: “Absolutely.” (beat) “What’s ‘sanguine’ mean?”
Zoe: “‘Sanguine.’ Hopeful. Plus — point of interest — it also means ‘bloody.'”
Mal: “Well, that pretty much covers all the options, don’t it?”

I was flabbergasted to find out that sanguine is supposed to mean hopeful. Not just hopeful, but dictionary.com says it means cheerily optimistic! Bright and happy and upbeat is totally not what I have in mind when I think of this word. Not that I think it means hopeless or morose, but… I always thought it meant sort of flatly ironic, a tad disbelieving, with a little dash of irritation at naivete.

Sanguine is supposed to be like, “Oh boy, I just know I’m going to win the lottery! Squee!”

Whereas I always had it to be like, “Yeah, good luck with that, because you’ll need a miracle.”

I still think of sanguine that way. It just doesn’t sound happy and upbeat. After 20-some-odd years, it’s sorta stuck that way in my head. I guess I had better stop using it. But dang it… then what IS a word that has that meaning???



Now here’s a funny one… For years, I was constantly bewildered by people, especially hard-boiled detectives, who get off the phone with someone and are so overcome by emotion, that they have to let the receiver slip down to the crook of their elbow so they can cuddle it like a teddy bear. Especially when the prior phone conversation wasn’t all that fraught with emotion. Was there some secret longing or wistfulness these tough characters had hidden deep down inside?

I don’t know what triggered it– it was certainly after the cell phone revolution– but I finally figured out that “He cradled the phone” is actually synonymous with “He hung up the phone”! ZONK!

Honestly, who says that? Well, it’s a moot point nowadays, I guess.



6 Responses to “Misapprehension of Words”

  1. bloodsong Says:

    Hey, I think I found it! “Phlegmatic”!

  2. Anastasia Marie Says:

    Being a writer forces me to consider all kinds of words in different lights, so I get what you mean. I had to laugh at your post about “cradling.” I never thought of the mental picture it must give to people. Thank you for the enlightening post! It gives me more ideas for the perspectives of characters in my novels.

  3. thevicwu Says:

    I always thought the same thing about cradled. :D -Indi

  4. Michelle Proulx Says:

    Cool, never knew that about cradling. I always figured they kind of nestled the phone between their shoulder and ear and rocked it back and forth like a cradle. Hanging up makes a lot more sense, lol.

    • bloodsong Says:

      I know, right? Why are they doing that after the phone conversation is over? ;D

      • Anastasia Marie Says:

        The old-fashioned spiral-corded phones had was was called a “cradle.” So, when someone “cradled the phone” after a conversation, it stands to reason that they put it back into its “cradle.” The cradle was a large holder for the phone, and generally looked like a small plastic baby’s cradle.

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