Grandiose is another word of Latin origin. I heard it mentioned during the lunchtime news in the context of George Bush’s plans for the colonisation of Mars. An American scientist called them a “grandiose waste of money”. Immediately my little ears twitched in excitement at this interesting choice of words.
Clearly he was trying to shock the listeners with this oxymoron linking a very positive word, grandiose, with a very negative one, waste. I also thought this was an excellent illustration of what I was arguing in an earlier entry about the contrasting status of words of Latin origin v. words of Germanic origin. Here we have a French word with a Latin origin (grandis) right next to a word whose Latin origin is a lot more distant, since it went from the Latin word vastus (empty) via Old North French waster and Middle English wasten. Besides, grandiose is a 3 syllable word versus the single syllable word waste. The contrast couldn’t have been more striking.
But then, I checked the exact meaning of grandiose and was extremely surprised to see that it is twofold:
1. Characterized by greatness of scope or intent; grand. 2. Derog. Characterized by feigned or affected grandeur; pompous.
The plot was thickening. The use of grandiose was even cleverer than I thought. Indeed it seems that in this context, this word can take on either meaning or both: it can be seen as a great project (if you think humans should indeed inflict themselves on the rest of the galaxy), or a pompous one (if you think this is all about proving how clever we are). It can also be seen as a great pompous project.
The other question this raises is: at which point of the transfer between the French and the English languages did grandiose take on this second meaning? The French definition of grandiose, just like the one of grandis (great), contains no such negative facet. Could it be due again to the relative bad press words of Latin origin tend to have?