Last week was a week of reappraisal and reconsideration. According to the latest polls, the UK had seemingly morphed into a Remain-backing country. While in order to ensure that a Brexit of any kind somehow comes to pass, many prominent Leavers had reassessed their opposition to Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, and had thrown their full support behind her deal.
This week, things changed.
The Hard Brexiters’ support for Mrs May’s deal vanished almost as swiftly as it had materialised – as, for that matter, did their support for Mrs May herself, not least after she sought to set aside differences and convene with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to discuss the current deadlock.
A raft of resignations promptly followed. As did news that several new opinion polls now showed a groundswell of support for a no deal exit from the EU. And as if that weren’t enough, the latest round of indicative voting in the Commons showed that the House was just as divided as the nation as a whole, with none of the possible Brexit outcomes currently up for discussion achieving majority support.
For all these reasons (and a few others besides) this week’s Word of the Week is expugnancy, a long-forgotten 17th century word for contrariness of opinion, or a clashing, mutual opposition of principles.
At the heart of expugnancy is the Latin pugnare, meaning ‘to clash’ or ‘to fight with fists’ (the same root as pugnacious,and repugnance). From there came a derivative verb, expugnare, meaning ‘to take by storm’, and it was this bellicose meaning that was first drafted into English when the verb expugn – ‘to capture in war or by fighting’– first emerged in the 1400s. An expugnance, likewise, was once a storming or besieging of a city.
The word expugnancy followed in the 1620s, but in a somewhat looser sense: gone were any connotations of vanquishing enemies or claiming the spoils of war, and instead expugnancy merely implied a mutual clash or divergence of opinion.
And after a week in which strongly held (and strongly opposed) opinions have dominated political proceedings, it seems an apt choice for Word of the Week.