Oh, man. Some style manuals just weren’t meant to be arbiters of style. Thumbing through the Chicago Manual‘s quaintly-named “Glossary of Troublesome Expressions,” we came across this stunning act of capitulation:
effete. Traditionally, it has meant “decadent, worn out, sterile.” Today it is often used to mean either “snobbish” or “effeminate.” Because of its ambiguity, the word is best avoided altogether.
That’s right: rather than argue for one definition or the other, or attempt to reconcile the two, Chicago thinks we should simply eliminate the word from the language! Just forget, as a people, that it ever existed! One can imagine the poor editor who wrote this sitting at his desk, worn down by life’s stormy vicissitudes and one too many battles over punctuation, clutching his head and crying, “Damn you, ‘effete’! You’ve caused me too much heartache! Just go—go, and never darken my door again!”
But as we look ahead to the VP debate tonight, we ask our readers: is this truly the American way? Did Teddy Roosevelt surrender like this when he led his men up San Juan Hill? Did Chicago itself surrender after the whole place was nearly burned down by a cow? And anyway, couldn’t “effete” still be used for phenomena to which both definitions apply—things that are decadent, worn out, snobbish, and effeminate all at once? Like Horace Engdahl?