Monday, July 16, 2012

Word of the Week - Sober

Obviously a sober-minded young lady ;-)
One of the words my editor said was distracting in Ring of Secrets was "sober." I used it a couple times instead of "serious," which is, of course, valid. Which she knew. But the modern definition... ;-)

I decided to look it up and found that the dual definitions of "temperate" and "not drunk" go back to the original Latin sobrius. The prefix, from se- means "without", and ebrius is "drunk." This is a pretty logical correlation, since temperance and drunkenness are rather exclusive. So the opposites have also been drawn together pretty much forever.

In English, sober has meant "grave, serious, solemn" since the 1300s. By the mid-14th century it had edged toward "moderate, temperate," and "abstaining from strong drink." Now, that "abstaining" makes me think that it didn't speak to one's state at a particular moment, but rather to one's habit. It wasn't until the late 14th century that it narrowed to "not drunk at the moment." Still, of course, carrying that meaning of "grave, serious, solemn, moderate." ;-)

Interestingly, the verb form (usually paired with "up") didn't come about until 1820.

Oo, and I learned a new name to call somebody who's a little too sedate or serious! Sobersides. Yep. My newest go-to for name calling, LOL. ;-)


  1. Words convey meaning based on so many things, not the least of which is cultural expectation. We can be exact in denotation, but connotation in translation sometimes plunges us into embarrassment, as I have experienced occasionally in my travels. A seemingly innocent word . . .

    Fun post, Roseanna.

    1. Oh yes, my French teacher had some fun stories about that--and cautioned us never to call a guy "mignon" LOL.

  2. Definitely fun post. And I NEVER would have guessed that both definitions came about so long ago. Thanks :)

    1. I didn't realize the Latin had both meanings either! Quite surprising.