Friday, 24 January 2014

Captious - A Critical Definition

CAPTIOUS

[Old & modern French captieux or Latin captiosus, from captio(n-): see CAPTION, -OUS.]

1 Fond of taking exception or raising objections; carping. LME

2 Apt or intended to deceive; fallacious, misleading. archaic. LME

3 obsolete. Capacious. rare (Shakespearean). Only in E17

Also:
captiously adverb M16
captiousness noun M16

A good vocabulary is a wonderful thing. John needn't just be nice, for example - he might be generous, or agreeable, or respectable, or gentlemanly, or anything that more clearly and accurately expresses what you think of John, other than the hopelessly vague nice. But paying compliments is easy - you're calm and can take your time to thoughtfully select the most appropriate words. Even if you struggle a little, that person is going to be nice enough, nay, patient enough to graciously wait until you've found those right words. Easy.

Where a solid, readily-accessible vocabulary really earns its keep, however, is in dealing with people that are not nice. For those that make our blood boil, we rarely have the time or composure to carefully and thoughtfully select our words - our skin is prickling and our teeth are clenched; we have been pushed to the brink and beyond. We desperately want to tell this person exactly what we think of them, what everyone thinks of them, to encapsulate in a few choice words the very irredeemable character flaws that will forever consign them to a bitter life of loneliness and scorn. But it is in these moments that our vocabularies so often fail us. For some, all they can do is unleash a volley of effs and blinders, as ubiquitous and devoid of meaning as nice. Or we just fall silent, unable to find even a single word to express the torrent of rage that is boiling within. It is for these moments of quickfire necessity that we need access to a vocabulary of choice, I'll-tell-you-exactly-what-I-think-of-you words: captious is one such word.

We all know captious people, and no other word quite fits. They're not just unpleasant, which is too vague to be meaningful; they're not just grumpy or contrary, which can be temporary states relieved by intervals of cooperation and even charm. Even fault-finding falls short, as that might just be a lack of sensitivity in rooting out genuine problems and mistakes. This person, however, is something else - this person is captious, a word that perfectly expresses the gleeful, smug, and thoroughly incorrigible refusal to be satisfied with anything. For every suggestion, there's an objection. For every decision that's taken, there is a reason why it should have been done differently. For every positive action by someone, there is a bad motive to be assumed. For every moment, every word, every look, every possible human interaction, there is a reason to take umbrage, exception and offence. The captious person has all the answers in hindsight, and is an expert in post-action analysis; the captious person takes no responsibility in making decisions, but every delight in questioning them. Do not stumble over your words. Do not retreat. Tell them what they are. Tell them loud. Tell them clear. Let the captious person carp no more.  

Do please leave your most even-tempered, politely phrased comments below.

18 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. Thanks for the comments, Konrad, but if you could avoid txtspk please.

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  2. Turning one's whole mind towards wasting not only one's own life in bitterness and self-delusion, but poisoning the lives of everyone with whom one comes into contact.
    Clever, eh?

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    1. This reminds me of a Room 101 with Stephen Fry, who wanted to put critics in. His thoughts were that there are those who create, and develop, and bring their work to life for the pleasure of others, and there are those that choose to simply look at and judge the work of others. I risk grave hypocrisy here, because I will probably cover the word 'critic' and defend them, but I know what he means - it is an odd vocation. However, not all critics are captious, and a captious critic would certainly be ... umm ... pestiferous.

      PS: I really wanted to run the alliteration to the end, but I couldn't think of a final adjective: "a captious critic would certainly be ... ?"

      PPS: Did you even mention critics?

      PPPS: Are PS's appropriate in blog comments?

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    2. Captious critics are common? Caustic? Cretinous? Conceited? Clots?
      There is the argument that artists only criticise life, while critics criticise art, and so theirs is the more refined genius. But then people will say anything.

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    3. I read once that the majority of critics have ten toes but do not have the same number of toes on each foot, and take out their bitterness on the talented whom they just assume to be equi-footed.

      -c.

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  3. Awh.. where is free speech gone.? I thought I was contributing, from a unique and interesting angle, to the blog.

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    1. You're welcome to comment - if you could just keep it on topic and readable : o )

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  4. So it's therapy-day on lexicolatry (speech therapy in places). A thinly-veiled attack on my response to your sentimental eulogy of winter, ed?

    Touché my friend, touché.

    I'll have you know that I think your campestral fields aren't magical either - they're utterly, utterly rubbish.

    And Sally, get it all out of your system now. That book critic was most likely an idiot. He probably likes nothing more than sitting in some field in the middle of winter so that he can have a good old ponder on
    how magical dampness is.

    -gleefully smug clueless.

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    1. Woah, woah, woah ... winter and critics, OK ... but fields? Seriously, fields? What has a field ever done to you to deserve such diatribe?

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    2. The OED says I don't need a reason, just an opportunity to disagree. Fields suck.

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    3. No, no, c, most critics are fluffy and lovely and cast an aura of warmth and blessings over the whole world. Really. Just as long as they've read the book.

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  5. Raising objections is not always that bad, it's the way you do it that matters. Be polite if you have to disagree.

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    1. Very true, Evi. In fact, I would say that raising objections is good - there would be a lot less horror in the world if more people would put their hands up and say that something is wrong. But a captious person goes beyond that - a captious person just objects for the sake of objecting; a captious person isn't in any way constructive; a captious person just ... oh my ... I'm off again ... carping against the captious ...

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  6. What a good word! I think captiousness turns into a deeply ingrained habit, becoming the persons' default setting, so that it's no longer expressed with any great conviction, it's just an automatic response to anything new or different. It must stem from a complete lack of imagination or creativity, and a deep resentment of that fact.
    That's what I think anyway.
    All these other comments are rubbish, written
    by talentless idiots.
    And as for this blog, I'd rather read my own obituary. In a field. In winter. With diphtheria.

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    1. I suspect there's a few that wouldn't mind reading your obituary right now, A.N.

      And you know what? I thought of you while writing this. I thought "Angry Nerd will like this word." And captiousness being someone's default setting - I like that idea; I think you could very well be right. Doesn't make them any less intolerable though.

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