Subtle weavings

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Rachel Frazin, "Trump: I told Republicans to vote for 'transparency' in releasing Mueller report", The Hill 3/16/2019   [warning — annoying autoplay video clip]:

President Trump said Saturday that he told Republican leadership to vote in favor of releasing special counsel Robert Mueller's highly anticipated report, saying that transparency "makes us all look good." […]

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a Trump ally, blocked the resolution in the Senate later Thursday, after it passed the House.

Graham, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, objected to the resolution after Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) refused to add a provision to the measure asking the Department of Justice to appoint a special counsel to investigate DOJ misconduct in the probe of 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's email use and the Carter Page Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act applications.

Schumer accused Graham of using a "pre-text" to block the resolution.

When I read this, I wondered whether a "pre-text" was a term for some obscure senatorial maneuver, like the "layover rule" or a "recess appointment". But no, it was just a mistake, as indicated by the fact that the hyphen is now gone from the story. Here's a screenshot to support the idea that it was once there:

Actually I had never consciously registered the fact that pretext is pre+text, and so I'll share with you the historical metaphors thus revealed, via the online etymology dictionary's entry for text:

… from Medieval Latin textus "the Scriptures, text, treatise," in Late Latin "written account, content, characters used in a document," from Latin textus "style or texture of a work," literally "thing woven," from past participle stem of texere "to weave, to join, fit together, braid, interweave, construct, fabricate, build," from PIE root *teks- "to weave, to fabricate, to make; make wicker or wattle framework."

And for pretext:

… from French prétexte, from Latin praetextum "a pretext, outward display," noun use of neuter past participle of praetexere "to disguise, cover," literally "weave in front" (for sense, compare pull the wool over (someone's) eyes); from prae- "in front" (see pre-) + texere "to weave," from PIE root *teks- "to weave," also "to fabricate."

In even deader metaphors, the same IE root apparently underlies

architect; context; dachshund; polytechnic; pretext; subtle; technical; techno-; technology; tectonic; tete; text; textile; tiller; tissue; toil

In the case of pretext, I just never thought about its history, which is pretty clear once the issue comes to mind. But I wouldn't have guessed subtle and dachshund — another piece of evidence that etymology is not always destiny.


  1. Dick Margulis said,

    March 17, 2019 @ 6:33 am

    Nobody pulls the wool over Mark Liberman's eyes!

    The style of monastic lettering, prevalent in Germany in the late Medieval period, that Gutenberg adopted for his original metal types is called textura, purportedly because the appearance on the page is that of woven cloth. Earlier script styles likely would not have produced that metaphorical sense.

  2. V said,

    March 17, 2019 @ 7:53 am

    What I find weird is that the original writer of the article at The Hill didn't know the word pretext.

  3. V said,

    March 17, 2019 @ 7:58 am

    Also, shouldn't that be "used [something] as [a?] pretext", maybe "used X as [a?] pretext to X"? Just "used a pretext" does not seem grammatical to me. But I'm not a native speaker and my Bulgarian usage of "pretext" might be interfering.

  4. V said,

    March 17, 2019 @ 8:01 am

    Sorry, that should be "pretext _for_", maybe? Sorry for posting multiple times.

  5. Philip Taylor said,

    March 17, 2019 @ 8:25 am

    V, it seems to me quite possible that the article was composed off-line using (e.g.) Microsoft Word, that "pretext" ended up at the end of a line, was hyphenated, and when the Word document was copied as source for the final version, the spurious hyphen was inadvertently copied at the same time.

    [(myl) That hypothesis would make more sense if the first 'e' in pretext were more than 39 characters from the start of a paragraph. There could have been some additional editing that changed its position, but in that case, the hyphenization would presumably have been lost.]

  6. V said,

    March 17, 2019 @ 10:41 am

    This is a question about my English usage.

    My instinct when using the word "pretext" is the following: "[referent] used [NP] as pretext for [VP]/[NP]". Is that roughly correct?

  7. David Marjanović said,

    March 17, 2019 @ 10:44 am

    I wonder if the toga praetexta in its function as formal attire is a link in the etymological chain.

  8. Eurobubba said,

    March 17, 2019 @ 11:15 am

    I always wondered what that dachshund was doing on the roof.

  9. Philip Taylor said,

    March 17, 2019 @ 12:01 pm

    MYL — Agreed. What is interesting is that this is not the first mis-use of "pre-text" in such a context :

    Paul and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) have introduced a bill titled the “USA RIGHTS Act” imposing reforms on the 702 program. The legislation would impose common sense reforms to the program and end so-called “Backdoor Searches” that allows warrantless searching of databases containing the communication of Americans and stops the practice of reverse targeting where an intelligence authority can use communication with a foreign national as a pre-text to target an American citizen. This bill strikes the proper balance between security and the Bill of Rights. The only leverage that Wyden and Paul have to get a debate and vote is the filibuster.


  10. David Morris said,

    March 17, 2019 @ 3:37 pm

    I had always pronounced and heard 'dachshund' as 'dash-hound' (and probably would have spelled it 'daschund', it makes sense – it 'dashes' everywhere), until an owner pronounced it 'dacks-h-nd' (with a schwa). gives 'dacks' first (with various hund/hound for the second syllable) before giving 'dash' last. Wikipedia only gives 'dacks' pronunciations.

    Google has 4 million results for 'daschund', but asks 'did you mean dachshund?' which has 63 million.

  11. AG said,

    March 17, 2019 @ 7:33 pm

    @ david …. sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but… i really doubt anyone aside from you says "dash-hound"

  12. V said,

    March 17, 2019 @ 8:54 pm

    I remember my embarrassment when I found out how "leprechaun" is pronounced (not the way I thought), talking to Ian Watts, in about 2003. :)

  13. Rod Johnson said,

    March 17, 2019 @ 9:25 pm

    "Dash-hound" was not an uncommon pronunciation when I was young (it may still be, but I hhaven't paid attention). At any rate, I doubt David is quite as much of an outlier as AG suggests. See for example .

  14. David Morris said,

    March 18, 2019 @ 2:19 am

    @AG If 4 million people write 'daschund' where Google can find it, I can't be be the only person to say 'dash-hound'.

  15. David Marjanović said,

    March 18, 2019 @ 6:12 am

    Funnily enough, nobody has said Dachshund in German in living memory. It was shortened to Dackel long ago.

  16. Rodger C said,

    March 18, 2019 @ 7:25 am

    AG, "dash-hound" is prevalent (or maybe used to be) in many places.

  17. V said,

    March 18, 2019 @ 3:04 pm

    Dackel is so standard in Bulgarian I did not even
    realize that it refers to the same breed.

  18. Rodger C said,

    March 19, 2019 @ 7:00 am

    American dachshund/Dackel fanciers call them "doxies."

  19. Andy Averill said,

    March 19, 2019 @ 7:13 am

    Eurobubba, according to AHD, dachshund is not from modern German dach = roof, but Old High German dahs = badger. But they also say it’s probably not from the IE root teks-.

  20. Rodger C said,

    March 20, 2019 @ 6:50 am

    Yes, AFAIK, doxies were bred to flush out badgers.

  21. TIC said,

    March 24, 2019 @ 7:04 pm

    I hope you already got your answer elsewhere, V, but in case not, here goes… I'd say that it is indeed standard to use the construction 'X as a pretext to Y'… Or, depending on the phrasing, 'X as a pretext for Y'… But the quote in the article didn't strike me as odd because, obviously, it's just a (one word) excerpt from what was clearly a longer, and presumably more complete, statement… It would perhaps have been clearer and better if the writer had written (assuming, of course, that it's accurate) something something along the lines of, 'Schumer accused Graham of using the demand for such a provision as a "pretext" to block the resolution'… Or (just to demonstrate the alternative phrasing I mentioned above) 'Schumer accused Graham of using the demand for such a provision as a "pretext" for blocking the resolution'… But, as I said, I don't see it as problematic that the writer simply referred to Schumer's accusation that Graham had used a pretext… I hope this helps, V…

  22. TIC said,

    March 25, 2019 @ 8:42 am

    Oh, the things ya learn via LL… The link to the etymology of 'dachshund' led to the word 'sett', which I'd never before encountered but the meaning of which (a badger's hole/nest) seemed entirely clear from the context… Nonetheless, I looked it up (mostly to see if it's used exclusively in connection with badgers) and was pleasantly surprised to see the first two definitions listed as 'the lair or burrow of a badger' and 'the particular pattern of stripes in a tartan'… That PIE root *teks- seems to be, somewhat invisibly, everywhere!…

    As to 'dachshund':

    1) 'Til now, I was for some reason certain that 'dachs' meant something like 'low' (as in 'close to the ground') in German and that 'dachshund' meant 'low dog'…

    2) I was pleased to learn from an earlier comment that, in Germany, they're apparently widely, if not entirely, referred to as 'Dackels'…

    3) I've always pronounced it 'docks-hoond' and my wife has always pronounced it 'dash-hound'…

  23. JTL said,

    March 25, 2019 @ 3:00 pm

    re MS Word line-ending autohyphenation: This explanation doesn't make sense regardless of the position of the word in the line. The line-ending hyphens are not part of the underlying text string but are added dynamically by the text rendering engine. When text is copied out of the file, the autogenerated hyphens don't come along for the ride. (This explanation would only possibly make sense if someone rekeyed the article or if a Word file was converted to PDF and then back or something else very weird and very unlikely.)

    Plus, the fact that it's in scare quotes really makes it seem like the article author didn't know the word.

  24. TIC said,

    March 26, 2019 @ 10:08 am

    Ever since the other day, when I ventured above my pay-grade to try to answer V's question(s) about the usage of the word "pretext", I've been pondering an aspect of what I wrote… It seems that I naturally gravitated toward saying that it was the *demand* for the provision — not merely the (proposed) provision itself — that constituted the alleged "pretext"… Was I mistaken (and typically verbose) there?… Would it be equally appropriate to more simply say that 'Schumer accused Graham of using the provision as a "pretext" to block the resolution'?… I'm thinking that such a phrasing would be just fine, but I'm unsure about that…

    Similarly, I go back and forth about whether I think the scare quotes and the errant hyphen do or don't combine to indicate that the writer was somehow unacquainted with the word 'pretext'… Also, one more possibility about how the hyphen got there occurred to me… It's not entirely impossible that the writer encountered the word in a printed transcript of Schumer's remarks, and in that transcript the word was broken across two lines with a hyphen, and he didn't recognize it and thought the hyphen was integral to the mysterious (and scare-quote worthy) word… Not likely, but not impossible…

    Lastly, in hindsight, I've realized that I got a bit confused in my later comment about the word 'sett'… There's no indication that the tartan-pattern definition has any connection with the PIE root *teks-… Mea culpa…

  25. KB said,

    March 27, 2019 @ 9:14 pm

    @Andy Averill:

    | … according to AHD, dachshund is not from modern German dach = roof, but Old High German dahs = badger.

    Er, isn't it from modern(-ish) German "Dachs" (=badger)?

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