Saturday, October 18, 2008

Risible and Derisive

I ran across the word "risible" in a book, recently, and immediately thought of "derisive". Specifically, I wondered if something that you found risible would generate derisive laughter, and using both words in a sentence would make it redundant. That, of course, meant that I needed to research the question for you folks.

The adjective risible indicates that something is generally related to laughter. The common usage adds an element of contempt to that laughter, and saying that someone's ideas are risible means that they are foolish and thus laughable. So far, so good.

When you deride someone, whether through derisive laughter or some other method, you show contempt or scorn. But do risible and derisive share roots, and did the "ris" portion of both words grow from another indicating such contempt?

Not exactly. Risible grew from the Latin verb "risus", the past participle of "ridere", which means "to laugh". That seems fairly straightforward. If you add the "de" to "ridere", you get another Latin word, one that means "to laugh at" or "to scorn". The "de" preposition is translated as "down" or "away from". If you "laugh down" at someone, you deride them.

So now you know that, when you let you boss know that you found his proposal risible, the derision may escape his attention if he possess a limited vocabulary but it still applies. Just do yourself a favor and save the peals of derisive laughter for your trip home.