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9 Old Words for Ignorance

Next time you feel the urge to make your sparring partner aware of his lack of knowledge, soften the blow with one of these old-timey terms for ignorance.

1. LACK-LATIN

This is one of many words that began with a literal meaning that shifted to the figurative. If a person was a lack-latin—or, to use the full insult, Sir John Lack-Latin—Latin was Greek to them. Back in the 1500s, that meant they were a bit of a dum-dum, so this word became a synonym for lackwit, numbskull, and doofus.

2. BENIGHTED

Anyone roaming around after dark is benighted in the literal sense, which has been around since at least the 1500s. By the following century, the meaning had broadened, as meanings tend to do. The figurative definition, courtesy of the Oxford English Dictionary, says someone who is benighted is “Involved in intellectual or moral darkness.” This use by the poet John Milton in 1637 is ominous: “He that hides a darke soule, and foule thoughts Benighted walks under the mid-day Sun.” An example from 1865 in the Pall Mall Gazette is more ignorance-centric: “Respectable old Russell Whigs, on whom charges of moral corruption operate much more powerfully than charges of intellectual benightedness.”

3. UNIRRADIATED

Speaking of light-out terms for ignorance, here’s one similar to unenlightened, blinded, and in the dark. Animals, who don’t follow human politics or sports with much enthusiasm, are thought of as ignorant in this sense, as seen in an OED example from 1914: “An animal life, a life unirradiated by hope or aspiration or sentiment or by the striving for beauty.”

4. BOOKLESS

Since the 1500s, this sad, sad word has been literal, meaning a place or person with no books. In our current electronic wonderland, literal booklessness has multiplied. But since the 1700s, bookless has also meant ignorant of books or not well-read.

5. LORELESS

This similar (and rare) word describes someone who is utterly lacking in lore—or, more specifically, knowledge, facts, data, info, etc. Loreless was spotted occasionally in the 1300s and rarely since. It turned up in 1836 in Tait's Edinburgh Magazine, in a description of “The poetry of his loreless soul.”

6. FLATTY

Not all ignorance is bad. Sometimes calling out a person for their lack of knowledge is complimentary, depending on who’s doing the calling: For example, a flatty is ignorant of the ways and means of criminality, especially being a thief. The term is apparently related to flatfoot, a word for a police officer; Green’s Dictionary of Slang records it as also meaning a clueless cop.

7. INCOGNOSCENT

This variation of incognizant is rare but wonderful. It appeared in G.H. Taylor’s The Excursion of a Village Curate in 1827, in a sentence that doesn’t exactly show respect to an elder: “I pardon you, my choleric incognoscent octogenarian.”

8. MUMPSIMUS

Most words have origins that are vague at best, but not mumpsimus. According to the OED, this word came to be “apparently in allusion to the story (1516 in Erasmus) of an illiterate English priest, who when corrected for reading ‘quod ore mumpsimus’ in the Mass, replied, ‘I will not change my old mumpsimus for your new sumpsimus.’” So someone who is a mumpsimus isn't just ignorant; they're obstinately ignorant.

9. ULTRACREPIDARIAN

Ultracrepidarian types can be damned smart and quite knowledgeable about something. But they have a bad habit of blabbing about matters outside their area of expertise. As philologist Fitzedward Hall put it in an 1872 example: “His assumption of judicial assessorship, as a critic of English, is, therefore, to borrow a word from Hazlitt, altogether ultra-crepidarian.” In other words, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


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Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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language
Here's the Right Way to Pronounce Kitchenware Brand Le Creuset

If you were never quite sure how to pronounce the name of beloved French kitchenware brand Le Creuset, don't fret: For the longest time, southern chef, author, and PBS personality Vivian Howard wasn't sure either.

In this video from Le Creuset, shared by Food & Wine, Howard prepares to sear some meat in her bright orange Le Creuset pot and explains, "For the longest time I had such a crush on them but I could never verbalize it because I didn’t know how to say it and I was so afraid of sounding like a big old redneck." Listen closely as she demonstrates the official, Le Creuset-endorsed pronunciation at 0:51.

Le Creuset is known for its colorful, cast-iron cookware, which is revered by pro chefs and home cooks everywhere. The company first introduced their durable pots to the world in 1925. Especially popular are their Dutch ovens, which are thick cast-iron pots that have been around since the 18th century and are used for slow-cooking dishes like roasts, stews, and casseroles.

[h/t Food & Wine]

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