I put three dots after the the title of this mini-essay because I didn't want my essay to be confused with perv. Perv is Australian slang for a sexual pervert, and I am not interested in writing about that subject today for all the billabongs in Sydney. I am sure that someday I will want to talk about off-beat sexual practices, however, but not today.
Pervicacity and Friends
So, I am looking at three sets of words beginning with perv. Some of them also are suggestive of other perv... or non-perv words. Let's begin with pervicacity. The Latin word underlying pervicacity is pervicax, which itself is derived from per, meaning through or full(y), vinco, meaning conquest ("I conquer") and the suffix ax, suggesting ability (as in capax--capability). Pervicax means "persisting in the face of opposition, determined or steadfast." In English pervicacity means almost the same. It is the quality of being "very obstinate or stubborn; headstrong, wilful; refractory." While the Latin emphasizes the immobility or steadfastness of the purpose (though "obstinate" is a secondary meaning), the English stresses the unreasonableness or obstinacy of the action, such as in the 17th century example "pervicatious contending, without reason and measure." The other words in the same word family (pervicaciousness, pervicacy and pervicacious) all stress the refractory nature of the person or action. The third definition of perverse in the OED is a synonym to pervicacity, while the other two definitions of perverse stress the moral error or evil of a person.
Rhymes with Pervicacity
But pervicacity reminds me of a word that bulked large in my life about 30 years ago when I was attending theological seminary. In those days people were arguing quite strongly for the authority or infallibility of the Bible, and people would also mention the perspicacity of the text. Now, they were mistaken in so using the word; they meant to argue that the Bible was perspicuous and not perspicacious. Indeed, sometimes it takes a perspicacious person to limn the perspicuity of Scripture.
Let's clear up these words. Both perspicacious and perspicuous are derived from the Latin words per and specio (meaning to look at), and have something to do with examining thoroughly. Perspicacity is defined by the OED as "of clear or penetrating sight" or "of clear or penetrating mental vision or discernment." A perspicacious person is sharp-witted and sees things clearly. A perspicacious person is not easily fooled.
Something that is perspicuous, however, is something that is clear or evident. The perspicuity of Scripture then is the clarity or transparency of it. "The Reformers argued that access to the Bible gave the laity access to God. The linchpin of their argument was that the Scriptures, which brought God to the people, were perspicuous." Something that is conspicuous is evident or obvious or unmistakable; something that is perspicuous is clear or transparent. Things usually are conspicuous while arguments, proofs or texts are said to be perspicuous.
On another issue, thank heavens there is no word in English pervivacity, even though there is a Latin word pervivo meaning "to go on living." We do have vivacity, vivacious and vivaciousness, all of which are derived from the Latin "vivo," (I live) and they refer to the personal attribute of liveliness or charm. Shoot for vivacity in life, not pervicacity.
I may only get a chance to begin these in this essay. We have the rare verb pervulgate, which means "to make public, make known." A pervulgation therefore is an advertisement (a making-known of some product). I think pervulgation has a limited utility in speech today, but the presence of the root vulgus ("common") makes the word sound like vulgar and vulgar, to many people, suggests indecent speech. Thus a characterization of an advertisement as a pervulgation may already contain more than the germs of a critical assessment.
Then we have pervigilate, a very useful term to describe staying awake or watching through the night. One might use the term in a religious sense: "The fasters pervigilated in hopes of achieving a clearer vision and understanding of God." Alternatively it has usefulness in a secular context: "Attempted pervigilation on Christmas Eve by children is almost always unsuccessful."
Let's conclude this essay with a comment on pervestigate. Like perfinish, which means to finish thoroughly, pervestigate means "to trace out, investigate diligently; to find out by research." We could speak of our pervestigation into the secrets of something, such as "His learning he had cancer led to his pervestigation of all the scientific literature on the subject." A pervestigation, then, would be even more thorough than an investigation.
I think that all who are interested in vigorous living should love the prefix "per" because it connotes a thoroughness of exploration that befits those who love life. Put gusto into your life. Embrace all the pers you meet!
Copyright © 2004-2010 William R. Long