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Prick [Feb. 4th, 2005|08:27 pm]
Recently, I've read several journal entries in which the writers speak of having had their interest in one thing or another peaked. Surely, though interest itself can peak (for example, as when interest in disco peaked in the 1970s), one's own interest can only be piqued. There is an intransitive verb to peak, meaning "to grow sickly and pale," from which we take the adjective peaked (two syllables), as in "You're looking a bit peaked." But the transitive verb I've always used when I've wanted to express the arousal of interest in something is pique. I've looked it up, and found that it comes from the French verb piquer meaning "to prick." The noun, of course denotes resentment, or a fit of dudgeon, but the verb to pique denotes the arousal of something, through some challenge or provocation. Resentment, anger, interest, curiosity, can all be piqued. I like the word, not least because of its close relative, the adjective piquant. Once denoting something stinging or disagreeably sharp, it now denotes something agreeably stimulating to the palate, or, via the wonder of metaphor, something engagingly provocative. To have one's interest piqued is much better than to have it peaked, in any case. Once your interest in something has reached a peak, there's nowhere for it to go but down. That would make anyone sickly and pale. One would then need some piquant stimulation, that they might no longer be so peaked.

[User Picture]From: springheel_jack
2005-02-05 05:37 am (UTC)
This is the same sort of thing as having baited breath.
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[User Picture]From: waning_estrogen
2005-02-05 06:28 am (UTC)
or as so many might say, baited breathe.
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[User Picture]From: flying_blind
2005-02-05 07:04 am (UTC)
I myself was caught in the bated/baited trap for a long time. Homophones are tricky, especially in an age when most people are apt to hear words before they have ever read them. Still, I forgive the homophones their little jokes, as they provide me with the material for so many little jokes of my own.
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[User Picture]From: gutbloom
2005-02-06 08:45 pm (UTC)

That's Where Madonna Gets Her Jokes

Homophones have all the best jokes.

This is much better than one of William Safire's On Language columns for the following three reasons:

1. You didn't mention a Lexis/Nexis search of the use of "pique" in news articles
2. You didn't add a digression into the origin of the world "disco"
3. You didn't mention your stint with the Nixon administration (which I imagine took great restraint on your part)
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[User Picture]From: flying_blind
2005-02-06 11:41 pm (UTC)

Re: That's Where Madonna Gets Her Jokes

My colleague from The New York Times is more concerned than I with what appears in newspaper columns. He seems to think they are of importance, but I rarely cite them these days. What would be the point? Most of them don't appear on the Internet until after they have appeared in print, and by that time they are stale.

I didn't bother to discuss the history of the word "disco" primarily because of its French connection. Bashing the French is so 2004. I leave such things to those who work in the print media.

I have long since learned that I need not mention my time with the Nixon administration, as someone else will invariably bring it up for me. Why Mr. Safire continues to waste his own words on the subject is a wonder to me. I suspect that it's merely another example of his tendency to live in the past. He's old-fashioned in so many ways! I'm sure he could benefit from one of those homophone make-overs.
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