November 29th, 2008

  • roque

Nov. 29, 2008 - effete

I'm posting this one because I thought I knew the definition, and it turns out I was wrong.

effete   [ i feet ]
adjective ("effetely" adv., "effeteness" n.)

1. Depleted of vitality, force, or effectiveness; exhausted: the final, effete period of the baroque style.
2. Marked by self-indulgence, triviality, or decadence: an effete group of self-professed intellectuals.
3. Overrefined; effeminate.
4. No longer productive; infertile.

(see archaic definition from Webster's 1828 Dictionary)

[Latin effētus, worn out, exhausted : ex-, ex- + fētus, bearing young, pregnant: see fetus.]

This late flowering of illumination—coming after Gutenberg's first printed Bible in 1455 or so—has often been seen as a last gasp of medievalism; Johan Huizinga, a great Dutch scholar, writing a seminal book “The Waning of the Middle Ages” just after the first world war, dismissed the period as effete.
--The Economist magazine, Flemish manuscript painting


additional note: the alternative definition of "effeminate," while tangentially associable with the "decadent" meaning, has apparently come about solely through misunderstanding and subsequent misuse of the word. the meaning has become further corrupted by the frequent and mistaken use of "effete" to mean "elitist," primarily by Republicans describing Democrats in the recent political campaign.