Monday, January 14, 2008

Effete -- like cultures gone to seed


We sometimes read that the Roman Empire in its latter days was "effete." Roman culture, in particular, gets this tag from the idea that it was mostly an ersatz (inferior, from the Greek word for "substitute") emulation of Classical Greek culture in the first place.

In latter days of the Empire, the Romans were literally "effete," that is, "worn out from bearing young", in that the higher classes had very low birth rates (as some European countries do today).

It can certainly be confusing for young students that "effete" sounds so much like "elite" (the choice part, a socially superior group, or a powerful minority group), although both words are often delivered with a similar sneer, as if to say, you may be "elite," but you're probably "effete."

effete (i-FEET) adjective
1. Worn out; no longer fertile or productive.
2. Weak, ineffectual.
3. Marked by decadence or self-indulgence.
4. Effeminate.

[From Latin effetus (worn out from bearing), from ex- + fetus (bearing young).]

Click here to see effete in the Visual Thesaurus.

"Many people who have grown up in socially, deeply conservative societies have a very hard time coming to terms with the freedoms available in liberal countries. Indeed, they take this personal liberty as a sign of decadence, and often despise Westerners as effete and irreligious. Unfortunately, they have no idea of the centuries of strife and struggle that have gone into attaining this level of secularism and freedom from the church, society, and the state."
-- Irfan Husain; Existential Dilemma Forced by Clash of Civilisations; Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates); Dec 2, 2004.

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