January 8, 2014

Case File #014.01.08: JEJUNE

When English speakers first started using the word jejune circa 1610, it meant “lacking nutritive value,” and this makes sense when you consider that the word derived from the Latin ieiunus (sometimes transliterated as jejunus), which meant “hungry” or “fasting.” But in less than a decade, the English adjective took on the additional sense of “dull or uninteresting”—more than likely, the idea was to suggest that something is lacking in intellectual “nutrition”—and this quickly became the word's primary meaning. Then during the last half of the century, jejune also took on as a secondary meaning the related sense of “simplistic or puerile,” thus relegating the original nutritional sense to its current tertiary slot in the word's semantic hierarchy.

©2014 Michael R. Gates

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