In a word: Rebarbative

November 01, 2010|By John McIntyre, The Baltimore Sun

Each week, The Sun's John McIntyre presents a moderately obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar -- another brick to add to the wall of your working vocabulary. Use it in a sentence in a comment on his blog, You Don't Say, and the best sentence will be featured next week.

This week's word: REBARBATIVE

Not one of the nice words, rebarbative means unattractive, objectionable, annoying, repellant. It comes to us directly from the French rebarbatif, meaning literally to "face each other, beard to beard." That derives in turn from barbe, "beard," all going back to the Latin barba. We get barb and barber from the same source.

To understand how facing each other, beard to beard, came to signify something repellant, think of the related verb, to beard, to confront someone boldly or challenge. Beard and rebarbative are literally in-your-face words, with the disagreeableness inherent in such a situation.

Example: Though they had once been friendly, Edmund Wilson and Vladimir Nabokov fell out over Wilson's review of Nabokov's translation of Puskhin and thereafter exchanged rebarbative remarks in the pages of the New York Review of Books.

From last week: Tim contributed a memorable comment on last week's word, nonage: "What comes between nonage and dotage? Midage?"

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