Monday, March 2, 2009


capricious [kuh-PRISH-us]
adj. apt to change one's mind suddenly; erratic; whimsical; unsteady; impulsive

[Comes from Italian capriccio ("whim") originally "a shivering," probably from capro "goat," with reference to frisking?]

The etymology of this word makes no sense to me. I'm not sure if people thought at one time that goats were apt to change their minds and from there we got the words caprice and capricious?

Before I looked it up, I thought the word caprice probably came from the Italian Island of Capri, mostly famous for producing tennis star Rafael Nadal's mid-calf capri pants. My imagination was that it's likely a windy place, and thus someone who is capricious, changes his mind as the wind blows in a new direction. But none of that seems to be the case.

According to Wikipedia, "the name Capri can be traced back to the Greeks, the first recorded colonists to populate the island. This means that Capri was probably not derived from the Latin capreae (goats), but rather the Greek kapros (wild boar)."

Thus, if caprice does come from goats, it has nothing to do with Capri, killing my blowing in the wind theory.

In Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg writes about an incident in the early 1960s in which his boss in the Department of Defense, John McNaughton, made a move which appeared to be impulsive, but was not. The Joint Chiefs of Staff had ordered U.S. Marines into Vietnam to protect an Air Base. But McNaughton overturned that command the day before the Marines were to be launched, replacing them with Air Force personnel, under the theory that once we sent in the Marines, we couldn't get out of that war:
(John McNaughton) didn’t reveal the basis for his apparently capricious impulse to screw up all the contingency plans of the JCS and CINCPAC – which got his directive reversed by the next day – so this brief crisis in civil-military relations has remained unexplained in history accounts, until now.

No comments: