Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

A blog about words, wordplay, and etymology, with slightly more than occasional political rants.

Monday, August 16, 2010

You are literally worse than the black plague. Literally.

Today's post bought to you by
I've noticed I'm often prone to speaking in hyperbole. I mean, I literally speak in hyperbole 200% of the time. I've noticed that everyone on the entire planet speaks in hyperbole 200% of the time. Literally, everybody on earth speaks in hyperbole all the time.
I thought our habit of taking meaning away from words by using them recklessly was a modern day invention. Today I learned that may not be quite so. 
So back in the days of black death, people referred to the disease as a pestilence. Pestilence was one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Pestilence killed a third of the known world. Yet only a few years later, folks started applying pestilence to other folks, as an insult. Pestilence was shortened to pest, and now, pest is barely an insult. When we call somebody a pest, we're telling them they're like a hideous illness that killed off half of Europe.
Nowadays, we refer to fleas and rats as pests, which is ironic because fleas and rats carried the plague. But according to Podictionary, that's a complete coincidence - we didn't start referring to vermin as pests until quite a while later. Which I suppose makes sense, since people had no idea that vermin carried the plague.
Interesting note, the fleas, specifically the Asian flea now called Xenopsylla cheopis, traveled from Asia to Europe not on rats, but on marmots. I wonder if people refer to marmots as pests. Interesting note on interesting note: I knew Xenopsylla cheopis off the top of my head, yet I have no ideas where I left my car keys. 

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