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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

What the heck is a Gadfly?

One of the truly great things we've gained from the Internet is nearly instantaneous access to a wealth of information  Seriously, the ability to look up just about any word or phrase we don't fully understand... while we are still reading... is huge!

In the past, when perusing a book or periodical, if we stumbled upon an unfamiliar word we had two choices; try to understand it contextually... or simply gloss over it in hopes that it's meaning isn't crucial to what we're reading.

My daughter is in the habit of reading books with a small notebook at her side.  When she is stumped by a word, she writes it down in her notebook and looks it up later in the dictionary.  However, most of us aren't that diligent, and probably prefer to guess at a likely definition or pretend it's some obscure foreign expression... unimportant to the outcome of the story.

But since the advent of the Web, there are a host of free tools that allow the reader to look up words without even leaving the document where they are found.  Personally, I like to Google unfamiliar words to get a nice selection of definitions.

For example, yesterday morning I was reading an article about the death of a former Palestinian negotiator named Haidar Abdel Shafi from stomach cancer.  The article included the following:

"The charismatic, lanky gadfly to the late Yasser Arafat was most known internationally for leading the Palestinian team with Jordan to the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991 and to peace talks in Washington in the two years following." *

The word that popped out at me almost immediately was 'gadfly'.  I'd heard/read the word many times before, but somehow had always had the idea it meant a playboy, socialite or something similar.  But this didn't seem to fit the way it had been used in the article... so I decided to look it up.

Wikipedia delivered a nice working definition complete with historical citations:

"Gadfly is a term for people who upset the status quo by posing upsetting or novel questions, or attempt to stimulate innovation by proving an irritant.  The term "gadfly" was used by Plato to describe Socrates' relationship of uncomfortable goad to the Athenian political scene, which he compared to a slow and dimwitted horse. It was used earlier by the prophet Jeremiah in chapter 46 of his book. The term has been used to describe many politicians and social commentators... It is important to note that in modern politics, gadfly is a demeaning term that is used to refer to folks who constantly complain about the political system just to hear themselves complain."

Huh?... boy did I have that one wrong!  And boy are you guys going to be seeing a lot of that word in future posts! :-)

Chag Sameach to all and thanks again to everyone who has chipped in to help get the Pina Chama back on its feet.  the total is now over $3600!  Great work!!!

* Source

Posted by David Bogner on September 26, 2007 | Permalink

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Chag Sameach!

Posted by: Sara K | Sep 26, 2007 2:56:22 PM

Very nifty! I'll confess to believing your initial definition of the word as well (a lighthearted/ lightheaded social butterfly).

Between that and my knowledge of the correct meaning of the word "bemuse" and pronounciation of the word "forte," I'm sure to be a smash at parties, I tell ya! (Actually, I'll probably just be a gadfly...)

Posted by: efrex | Sep 26, 2007 4:26:38 PM

I always thought that a gadfly is a petty annoyance, something like those big insects that follow horses around and get swatted with the tail once in a while...

Posted by: Irina | Sep 26, 2007 4:46:29 PM

Every time I go out to sea I have one goal in mind, to catch the mighty gefilte, king of all fish. There are a lot of challenges surrounding the capture of this mighty sea creature.

Perhaps the most difficult is dealing with what happens when you gut it. That is because hundreds of gadflies live in its stomach and just as soon as you cut it open they fly out and create a big ruckus.

Chag Sameach.

Posted by: Jack | Sep 26, 2007 5:16:57 PM

Perhaps you were thinking of a gadabout?

Chag Sameach!

Drew

Posted by: Drew | Sep 26, 2007 8:24:37 PM

Chag Sameach

Posted by: Mickysolo | Sep 26, 2007 10:16:10 PM

Years ago, when I was applying to law schools, I read the catalog for Yale. In the introduction, the dean of the law school called Yale "the gadfly of the law."

I did not apply to Yale.

Posted by: antares | Sep 27, 2007 1:22:20 AM

If anyone's curious, the word used in Jeremiah (46:20) is keretz קרץ. Modern Hebrew doesn't use that word in the sense of gadfly, but we do have the related kartzia קרציה meaning "tick" - another term for an annoying person.

Posted by: Dave (Balashon) | Sep 27, 2007 8:45:02 PM


From one gadfly to another -- cheers! (the modern political definition, as with most things developed by politicians, is wrong)

Posted by: Wrymouth | Sep 30, 2007 5:49:57 PM

i thought it was a fly in my sukkah from that tribe.(ducking)

Posted by: Shmiel | Sep 30, 2007 10:27:38 PM

I always kinda thought of you as a gadfly (in the strict Socratic sense, of course). Chag Sameach!

Posted by: psachya | Oct 1, 2007 11:56:24 PM

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