Today’s Vocabulary Builder Vitamin is: hagiography, pronounced like this.
How does it feel to be more erudite than the readers of The New York Times? Well, dear Vocabulary Builders and Vitamin gulpers, you are indeed or soon will be. I base that wild assertion on a list of the words reported to be most often looked up by Times readers. In June 2009, deputy news editor Philip Corbett sent out this memo to Times reporters and columnists:
“Our choice of words should be thoughtful and precise, and we should never talk down to readers. But how often should even a Times reader come across a word like hagiography… especially before breakfast?
Hah! Times readers must be protected from big words before breakfast! But not you, because you take your Vocabulary Vitamins whenever they are offered, which admittedly has been infrequently this week.( Sorry about that, but I’ve been distracted by online birthday parties
Now we’re into paragraph four and still have not declared the meaning of our Vocabulary Building Vitamin, “hagiography.” Are your pencils poised? Originally hagiography conjured images of great choirs, the smoke of incense, and ornate holy cards. Because hagiography is the study of saints, referring literally to writings about such holy people, and specifically the biographies of ecclesiastical and secular leaders. Hagiography is a word made from two Greek parts, hagios for holy or saint, and graphe for writing. These are tales of those believed “to be imbued with the sacred” according to wikipedia, be they of Christian, Jewish, Buddhist or other persuasions. Perhaps you’ve heard of the Hagiographa, a title for one third of the Hebrew Old Testament, the books dealing with lives of the “hagios” such as Job, David, Solomon, Ruth, and Esther and others.
Hmm. Then what did Silobreaker, an online news digest, mean yesterday when it said the The New York Times carried “a hagiographic sketch of Senator Max Baucus, of Montana, together with two Democrats and three Republicans, working for hours a day to devise a compromise (to health care reform.) The Senator seems like a good guy, but holy?
Aha, fellow wordsmiths. We have now detected the pejorative use of the word hagiography and its related form hagiographic: Doting, fawning and flattering, all puff, polish and poo-poo. This term is often used in reference to the works of biographers and historians thought to be too reverential to their subject. Which is why the Urban Dictionary sarcastically defines hagiography as an over-fawning biography, a puff piece. As in, ” that was no expose, that was a hagiography.”(An aside: The Urban Dictionary is very entertaining, defining nagiography as “the biography of your mother-in-law” )
Warning to those about to publish their memoirs: Please don’t make yours a shamelessly egotistic, self-serving auto-hagiography.
Today’s Vocabulary Vitamin is: hag• i• og• ra• phy, pronounced like this.
n.pl.hag• i• og• ra• phies
1. Biography of saints.
2. A worshipful or idealizing biography.
hagi• o• graphic adj. Pronounced like this. likhagi• ograph• er n.
Sources:The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.http://dd.dynamicdiagrams.com/category/user-experience/http://www.silobreaker.com/why-obama-is-badly-adrift-on-healthcare-16_2262489339818672141?Focus=11_85707http://www.urbandictionary.com/author.php?author=Dr.%20Heywood%20R.%20Floyd&page=7