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Saturday, October 08, 2005

Language Change

I noticed an interesting linguistic change in my history text book, A Pocket History of the United States. I read this sentence:
The patriot forces were at first wretchedly organized.
This confused me. Just a few pages earlier I'd read that we were "undisciplined and half-armed." I underlined the sentence, thinking that this sort of contradiction was something I could base my paper on. Then after a few minutes puzzling it out I realized what was going on. When Commager and Nevins wrote "wretchedly", in 1942, the meant "very badly" organized. But I read it to mean, overly organized. To my 2005 eyes "wretchedly organized" connoted a high level of organization, so overly organized that it was wretched.


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