James J. Kilpatrick

Five of my six everyday dictionaries say that "to purvey" applies "especially" to food. As usual, Merriam-Webster gets permissive: The verb apples generally to "provisions." My guess is that "to purvey" is a knife that has lost its cutting edge. After 600 years, it happens.

Boo Ramage in Greenwood, S.C., asks about an obituary for a basketball coach who "achieved notoriety" as a talent scout. She asks, Isn't it an insult to impute "notoriety"? It never used to be. The noun is innocently rooted in the Latin notus, known. In 1650, when it cropped up in English, "well-known" is all it meant. It's slipped downhill so far that today every dictionary says it means to be known widely and "usu. unfavorably." The Encarta dictionary says the meaning of "well-known" is now archaic. The more things change, to coin a phrase, the more things change.

James J. Kilpatrick

James J. Kilpatrick has been reporter, editor, columnist, commentator, and briefly an adjunct professor of journalism.

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