What is obloquy?

Word count: 244 words

Reading time: about 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: obloquy.

I have to confess. I’d never heard the word obloquy before reading Salman Rushdie’s autobiography, Joseph Anton. I like to think of myself as someone with a relatively big vocabulary so this word took me by surprise. Worse, I couldn’t guess at its meaning from the context of the sentence, which was too skimpy. Here’s where I found it:

So all of a sudden he became capable of shrugging off the obloquy. 

When I looked up the word I was astonished to learn it was a noun meaning strong public criticism or verbal abuse OR disgrace, especially disgrace brought about by public abuse. The etymology of the word is even more interesting. It dates back to the mid-15th century when it meant “evil speaking.” It comes from the Latin obloquium meaning “speaking against, contradiction,” which in turn comes from the Latin obloqui “to speak against, contradict.”

If you look carefully at the obloquy you may see the beginning of a related word, loquatious, which means someone who is talkative, garrulous or chatty. When you’re trying to define a word it’s always a good idea to look for bits and pieces of other words. These can often provide useful clues as to meaning.

Photo courtesy Paul Cross, Flickr Creative Commons

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