Let's get serious 

Rosie Right

Reader Josie Linen called the other day to call attention to the constant use of the word gravitas by today's political reporters. We heard it often when George W. Bush started his campaign for president. Did he have enough gravitas? Or, Cheney lends gravitas to the Republican ticket.

Our friend wanted to know where the word came from. It is not in many dictionaries but is, fortunately, in the Oxford English Dictionary. And it is listed separately with several examples of how it has been used in the press:

"1924 Manch Guardian Weekly … He never sheds a certain Roman gravitas. 1958 Spectator … A certain gravitas in the atmosphere of the Scottish universities … 1969 Listner … Gravitas, the heavy tread of moral earnestness, becomes a bore if it is not accompanied by the light step of intelligence."

OED refers the student to its discussion of the word gravity. Under this listing, there are many meanings of which the most appropriate to present usage seems to be:

"Weighty dignity; reverent seriousness, serious or solemn conduct or demeanour, befitting a ceremony, an office etc.; staidness. In later use with wider application: Seriousness or sobriety (of conduct, bearing, speech, temperament etc.); opp. to levity and gaiety.

As for the origin of gravitas: According to Cassell's Latin Dictionary, Latin-English, English-Latin, by D.P. Simpson, English lifted gravitas lock, stock and barrel from Latin where the word meant the same as it does in English.

Rosie fears that this political season we will be reading and hearing other contagious political words. Perhaps, after November, they will go away again.

Let Rosie hear from you by telephone (358-0825), letter (1118 W. Main St., Richmond, Va. 23220), fax (355-9089) or e-mail rmail@richmond.infi.net

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