Friday, January 18, 2013

Insidious

It's been a couple of weeks since my last post. I need to remind myself that not every message here has to be a long essay. In that spirit, I'll write a short piece for today.

I was listening to a podcast yesterday of a roundtable discussion among science fiction fans, and one of the panelists kept misusing the word "insidious" as though it meant frightening or evil, and blatantly, overwhelmingly so. Has anyone else heard the word misused this way?

Merriam-Webster has a lot to say about the word; definitions include awaiting a chance to entrap, harmful but enticing, and having a gradual, cumulative effect. I've always thought of it as meaning subtly harmful, describing something that builds into a big, well-grounded problem before you're aware of it, so that's pretty much on track.

I'll give the example of Achyra, the insidiously evil Webmistress goddess, in Elizabeth Moon's "The Deed of Paksennarion" (as opposed to Liart, the more overt god of torment). She plays for the long game — or games, really, since she always has a lot of plots going on — setting up people and situations years in advance, masking her purposes and causing good people to fall into conflict with each other, and trying to strategize so that all courses of action may lead to woe. Rarely do her minions come out into the open.

While looking up "insidious," I also came across references to the 2010 movie. I didn't see that; I rarely go to a theater to see a movie, and this one was definitely not my cup of tea. Reading the plot description, it seems as though the title fits the word. If anyone has seen it and can tell me whether that's right, please do so.