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Words April 27



“In October 1943, while the prime minister was parlaying with Roosevelt, a discreet bidding war on his behalf secured the film rights to Marlborough for 50,000 pounds, with 30,000 pounds banked immediately, and he was paid another whacking sum for English-Speaking Peoples.”

It’s possible that Churchill and Roosevelt attended the races together, pooled their money and ran it up into a larger sum through skillful selection of horses. To parlay is “to bet or gamble (an original amount and its winnings) on a subsequent race or contest.” Informally, parlay means to use something one possesses — such as talent or beauty — to achieve a desired objective: “She parlayed her Miss Arkansas crown into a movie career.”

But I suspect that what the two leaders actually did was parley — “confer, discuss.”

“Weinstein said he would not permit such agreements in the future. If the withdrawal of previously declassified documents becomes necessary, he said, it will be conducted ‘with transparency,’ including disclosure of the number of documents removed.”

A lawyer who thinks about this sort of thing remarked the other day that the predominant use of transparent has changed since his youth. I can affirm that transparent and transparency once were employed almost exclusively with a negative connotation, relying on this definition of transparent: “Easily seen through or detected; obvious, as in transparent lies.” If we described a person as transparent, we usually meant that it was easy to see through to his dishonorable intentions. There was always another meaning of transparent — “Free from guile; candid or open: transparent sincerity” — but it wasn’t often used.

Today, as in the example above, transparency is a praiseworthy, highly sought quality. We ask that our government processes be transparent, so we ordinary citizens can see what’s going on.

Something similar has happened with redundant and redundancy. At one time, redundancy was “excess, superfluity.” We tried to avoid being redundant in our speech and writing, for example. Now, we want the complicated devices we rely on — computers, airplanes, etc. — to be redundant, “to possess excess or duplicate parts that can continue to perform in the event that other parts malfunction.”

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