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Lewd, yes -- but lurid?

Posted by Jan Freeman, keep until April  October 3, 2006 08:41 PM

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A number of reporters on the hot, hot trail of Rep. Mark Foley's suggestive instant messages to teenage congressional pages have described those e-mails as lurid. Now that I've read the exchanges, though, I'm wondering if some journalists these days think lurid is a euphemism, or maybe a dysphemism, for lewd.

It's not. Lurid, from the Latin for "pale, wan," means "Causing shock or horror; gruesome," or "Marked by sensationalism," says the American Heritage Dictionary. In a note on synonyms, it adds:

[Lurid] describes what shocks because of its terrible and ghastly nature: lurid crimes. At other times, it merely refers to glaring and usually unsavory sensationalism: a lurid account of the accident.

So there's nothing inherently sexy about lurid. Lewd, on the other hand, has one thing on its mind: "Preoccupied with sex and sexual desire; lustful," it means, or "obscene; indecent."

Coverage of the Foley story may well achieve luridness ("unsavory sensationalism"); the facts, too, may prove to be more lurid ("terrible and ghastly") than we know today. But the congressman's icky e-mails don't deserve the drama of the lurid label; they're just plain old lewd.

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