Monday, October 22, 2012

Something I Learned Today

There are quite a few people who do not recognize the words 'magnanimity' or 'teetotaller'. At least, nobody in my Ethics class today recognized either word. Magnanimity actually doesn't surprise me; but I was utterly surprised by 'teetotaller'. Has it really ceased to be a recognizable word? And if so, does it say anything about our society that the word is no longer part of the general vocabulary? I mean, besides the fact that Methodist progressivism is no longer a big influence on politics. In any case, I found it quite surprising. One learns something new everyday.

In any case, it inspired me to look at the Google N-gram for 'teetotaller'.

ADDED LATER: Equally interesting is the N-gram for magnanimity.


  1. You must not have had any Mormons in the class!  At least, *this* Mormon has heard the word on more than one occasion, directed at myself.

  2. branemrys1:55 PM

    I probably don't! I wonder if perhaps there are regional or generational differences that affect it, too.

  3. I have been in a reading group full of professional philosophers where many of them didn't know the word.

  4. "Teetotaller", that is. There was a debate about how to pronounce it, among those who knew what it meant. (It came up in something we'd read.)

    As a teetotaller, this was rather alienating.

  5. MrsDarwin2:42 PM

    I often describe my father as a teetotallar (he simply doesn't care for the taste of alcohol, nor coffee or tea). Now I wonder what people think I've been saying about dear old dad.

  6. MrsDarwin2:50 PM

    Tried adding "teetotaler" to the mix. Interestingly enough, the extra "l" makes a difference, with first one spelling and then the other spiking in the 1880s and 90s. The "ll" spelling triumphed and held sway for most of the 20th century, with a brief dip during WWII, but apparently now the "l" spelling is slightly more common, though contemporary usage of either term is slight.

  7. branemrys3:11 PM

     Interesting; I've changed the N-gram link to include it. It turns out that it's an American/British difference -- the British still prefer the double-l (somewhat) but the Americans have preferred the single-l (quite a bit, relatively speaking) for a while.

  8. branemrys3:33 PM

    I can imagine.

  9. Brandon, if only circumstances could have allowed me to take
    your Ethics class. I could at least have some idea of what
    "magnanimity" and "teetotaller" mean.
    "Magnanimity" since I've been skimming through the Summa (2-2, 129)
    and the Nicomachean Ethics (IV) the past few months, and
    "teetotaller" since I was looking in the dictionary for a word to
    describe myself, as I rarely drink alcohol. But perhaps assuming that I'd be
    the only student to know would be a bit presumptuous of me, which I understand
    is the vice opposite to magnanimity, but then again, maybe I'm being


    As for being something of a teetotaller, it wasn't by
    Methodist progressivism (as I'm Catholic); I guess I just never developed a taste
    for alcohol.

  10. branemrys9:10 PM

    Yes, it is unfortunate not to have you in my Ethics class!

    I do suspect that Catholic teetotallers are pretty rare.

  11. Bill K1:21 AM

    This got me wondering about what might be the most the most obscure topic, by Ngrams, you've ever covered on this site. My (swift and, I hope, likely) guess would be that eustochia would win the palm.

    Turns out it is fantastically
    rare, even more so than it's

  12. branemrys7:26 AM

    You might well be right; it's definitely not one I would expect anyone to have picked up. And looking at the data set Google turns up for it, it turns out that the Google N-gram even makes it seem less rare than it really is -- a number of the hits are due to the fact that there are two St. Eustochia's, the earliest one of whom happened to be a correspondent of St. Jerome, and despite N-gram case-sensitivity some of those mentions seem to be slipping by.

    I'm pretty impressed that you could pull out eustochia offhand like that.

  13.  What's impressive is that you are evidently one of the world's foremost and most prolific experts on the subject. And it's not as if it's an unimportant subject.

    In all seriousness, those particular posts helped me understand virtue ethics a little better. I don't know how representative I am, but the centrality of prudence in virtue ethics always seemed like a cop-out to the extent that a lot of its exponents seemed to leave prudence hanging as the virtue of being apt to know what needs to be done in a given circumstance. That always rung a bit empty to me, as near to saying that prudence is just the virtue of getting things right. Leaving aside whether that does justice to the typical broad treatment of prudence (it doesn't), your post fleshed the matter out, both by setting eustochia as an element of prudence among other integral parts, and by providing a sharp example. So, thanks.

  14. Sounds like someone would like to see the return of
    "Thursday Virtue/Vice." :)


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