Craven
Posted: 18 May 2007 08:35 PM   [ Ignore ]
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When did the word go from meaning “characterized by abject fear; cowardly” to just plain “abject”? As I hear it used today, it lacks the element of fear and focuses on debasement. No, not ‘the basement’, but a status of having impulses, motives, morals, values, and standards that are very low. Low as in “in the cellar”, if not the gutter. So far, my craven longings tonight include pizza topped with nothing but anchovies, but I could probably do better. Maybe that’s more of a “craving longing”.

Here’s an example from a random blog: 

Dating from Madame Butterfly and even before, representations of Asian women in the West have run the risk of appearing to cater to a certain craven impulse in Western men, a dynamic that on both sides is constructed and confining. The interesting question becomes, then, are the women of Shonen Knife subtly parodying this Western image of Asian Women, are they embracing it and capitalizing on it, or are they moving beyond these expectations and framing the question in an entirely new way? How contrived is their girlie, kitschy cuteness?

http://tfeng.tripod.com/print-2.HTM

[ Edited: 18 May 2007 09:03 PM by foolscap ]
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Posted: 18 May 2007 09:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I guess I don’t see where you are coming from, Foolscap. It is hard to know exactly what the auther of that blog means without seeing more. But if it means what I think it does, then yes, Western men are more timid in relationships with their womenfolk than men of the East. Men of the East not only used to feel superior to women, but acted that way openly.

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Posted: 18 May 2007 10:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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It appears to me that the writer is simply using the wrong word, ie it doesn’t mean what he thinks it means. But I could have missed a semantic shift or two (it’s been known).

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Posted: 19 May 2007 04:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I’ve heard and read it used in the manner described many times, or so I think. I picked that blog randomly after I formed the question.

Here’s one from a gaming blog:

That said, do you think we should make pre-release product announcements anyway? How far in advance? In how much detail? Try and think of us when you answer, not just your own craven desires ("I must know every product you ever gave a single fleeting thought to, scheduled from here to the end of the decade, with no excuses for missing a release date by even a single day").

Or a journalist’s blog:

As much as right-wing politicians have leapt into the breach to exploit Terri Schiavo for their own purposes, it’s the media who have driven the story incessantly.

Feeding frenzies are typically the product of two common traits of editors and producers: a pack mentality, and a craven impulse to provide the public with stories they think will drive up their respective shares of the audience. The former often leads them to misjudge the latter, as in the Schiavo case: It’s clear that the public’s disgust with the politicians’ behavior is primarily over their grotesque invasion of an agonizing private family matter, and on that score, the media’s behavior is even more reprehensible.

I just don’t think “fearful impulse” or “cowardly desires” are legitimate interpretations. Perhaps my ears have been deceiving me, though. It’s not a word that gets a lot of context these days.

[ Edited: 19 May 2007 04:55 AM by foolscap ]
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Posted: 19 May 2007 04:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Interesting.  You seem to be right about the new development [insert ritual deploring here]; I’m guessing people are simply unclear about the (traditional) meaning of this not very common word and are using it in a more general negative sense.

By the way, the word did not originally mean ‘cowardly’ but ‘defeated’; hence to cry craven: “to acknowledge oneself vanquished, to give up the contest, surrender.” It’s easy to see how that change in meaning occurred (and I’m picturing Renaissance Safires fulminating about people who use words sloppily).  The etymology is unknown.

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Posted: 19 May 2007 07:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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This from Time/CNN:

There are few more abject sights than that of Congress surrendering to interest-group pressure. But even by the craven standards of Capitol Hill, it was striking when the House voted 360 to 66 last week to rescind the Medicare catastrophic health-insurance program that it had lopsidedly approved amid a self-congratulatory frenzy just last year. The Senate showed enough moxie to save fragments of the plan, but it too voted to kill a special income-tax surcharge (up to $800) that would have been levied solely on the affluent elderly to help fund the program.

It’s easy to see how my or anyone’s confusion arises. Even as a counterpoint to moxie, the context does not point directly to cowardice. And here it can’t really be re-phrased as ‘cowardly’ or ‘fearful’ standards. It’s a word rich in meaning but without much concrete substance.

[ Edited: 19 May 2007 08:24 AM by foolscap ]
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Posted: 30 May 2007 05:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Isn’t this shift in meaning influenced by the verb “crave”?  Am I right in observing that these two words are unrelated, but share 5 consecutive letters in common?

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Posted: 30 May 2007 06:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Yes, they are from different roots, but crave, according to one hypothesis, may have influenced the development of craven.

To crave is from the Old English crafian, meaning to demand what one has a right to.

Craven appears in Middle English as crauant, but beyond that its etymology is unknown. Some have suggested that it is from the more common Middle English word creant, meaning trusting and used in phrases to mean to surrender. Those that plump for this idea suggest that the v was added due to influence from the verb to crave.

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