I was listening to British prime minister David Cameron sometime last year and noticed that he used the word plaudit. This English noun is an imperative in disguise, and a Latin imperative at that: plaudit is a shortening of the three-syllable plaudite, a second-person plural command meaning “applaud [, you guys].” The infinitive of that Latin verb was applaudere, a compound of ad, the forerunner of Spanish a, and the plaudere that meant ‘to clap, strike, beat.’ Spanish and English have turned to that compound verb for aplaudir/applaud, and to its past participle for aplauso/applause.

But before you applaud, there’s more. From Latin plaudere English has the uncommon adjective plausive, which the American Heritage Dictionary defines as ‘Showing or expressing praise or approbation; applauding.’ Much more common is a word that Spanish and English share, plausible, which originally meant ‘worthy of being applauded.’ Later the sense expanded to ‘worthy [until contradicted] of being considered true; conceivably true.’ It’s unfortunately the case that with deception in mind, some people say things that sound plausible but that they know aren’t true. As a result, the English plausible has added a few senses (which Spanish doesn’t share): ‘Giving a deceptive impression of truth or reliability; disingenuously smooth; fast-talking.’

The corresponding abstract noun is plausibilidad/plausibility, and English also has a version with one of its native noun-forming suffixes, plausibleness.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. georgettesullins
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 14:05:55 directed me here and I’m so glad I came. I have much to read and learn here.


  2. Steve Schwartzman
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 14:18:07

    Welcome, Georgette, and browse to your words’ content.


  3. shoreacres
    Feb 12, 2012 @ 10:00:44

    I came by last night and ended by going off on a search for the word that “goes with” plausibility, at least in sociological circles. I never found it, but apparently my mind was working the night shift again and I remembered it this morning: credibility.

    As I remember the theory, something can be credible, but not plausible, or vice-versa. If it’s neither, you can toss it out, and if it’s both, you can invest money. Now that I’ve read this entry and explored credible, it seems to me the sociologists may have been “splitting frog’s hairs”, as my granny used to say.

    In any event, there certainly are propositions, positions and people who are credible but not worthy of being applauded, so perhaps there is a distinction here after all. It’s an interesting word that led to an interesting tangent.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Feb 12, 2012 @ 10:20:05

      The math teacher in me is never against going off on tangents, the more interesting the better. You’ve got some appealing phrases in your comment: “my mind was working the night shift again” and “splitting frog’s hairs” (thanks, granny). It didn’t take long to find an online dictionary that defines plausible as ‘credible,’ and for me the two words mean about the same thing, so hello frog’s hairs. But it just dawned on me that the negatives are quite different: implausible means ‘not plausible,’ but through overuse incredible is now most often just another word in the category of great and wonderful, which have lost their original power.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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