BL: shrewd, shrew
Posted: 05 December 2013 05:50 AM   [ Ignore ]
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They’re not ROUS, but they still exert a malign influence.

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Posted: 05 December 2013 08:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Fascinating. I had no idea that shrew and shrewd were connected or the shift in meaning of shrewd. Thank you, Dave.

One minor fix that might be worth making is that shrews aren’t rodents; they’re in an order called Soricomorpha which also includes moles.

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Posted: 05 December 2013 08:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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In the Middle Ages, the small rodent was thought to be venomous and its bite highly injurious, hence the association with evil things.

Two points:

1)Shrews are not rodents.  (Pipped by Dr. F!)

2)Shrews actually are venomous; this is not merely a medieval folk-belief.  However, the toxicity is not great enough to seriously harm a large animal, although it can cause localized pain and swelling.

[ Edited: 05 December 2013 08:24 AM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 05 December 2013 08:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Photo finish! Dr T posted while I was fixing a typo and reposting.

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Posted: 05 December 2013 12:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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FWIW, ISTM that “shrewd”, while mostly positive in its connotations, is not unreservedly so, and retains at least a touch of its “unsavory” reputation.  If somebody asked me, “What do you think of Bob?” and I said, “He’s very shrewd,” this would be a carefully calculated statement: not an insult, certainly, but not exactly an endorsement, either.  (Unless one was in the market for a slightly sneaky associate.). In terms of “positivity”, ISTM to fall somewhere between “clever” and “sneaky”, but to be closer to the first. 

Incidentally, this reminded me of a Biblical line in which the disciples are told something like: “Behold, as I send you as sheep amidst wolves, you must be as shrewd as serpents but as innocent as doves.” I wondered how the KJ version read, but it refers to “wise” serpents, not shrewd ones.  (Unsurprisingly, many different adjectives have been used in various versions of the Bible, including “cautious”, “sagacious” and “prudent”, but I have a bit of trouble picturing a “sagacious serpent,” but no trouble picturing a “shrewd” one.)

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Posted: 05 December 2013 12:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I didn’t know any of this at all; only that shrews have unpleasant, shrill voices, disproportionate in volume to the animal’s size, and the ones I’ve seen were a great deal slower-moving than rats or mice. 
Thanks, Dave et al.

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Posted: 05 December 2013 01:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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FWIW, my experience with this word is more along the lines of how Dave defines it in the article.

The phrase that comes to mind for me is “that was a shrewd investment,” which for me is more like a combination of cleverness with wisdom. The shrewd investor sees things that others are missing, often tangential factors that are more important than they seem to be at first glance.

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Posted: 06 December 2013 03:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Biological errors corrected. Thanks.

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Posted: 06 December 2013 04:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Incidentally, this reminded me of a Biblical line in which the disciples are told something like: “Behold, as I send you as sheep amidst wolves, you must be as shrewd as serpents but as innocent as doves.” I wondered how the KJ version read, but it refers to “wise” serpents, not shrewd ones.  (Unsurprisingly, many different adjectives have been used in various versions of the Bible, including “cautious”, “sagacious” and “prudent”, but I have a bit of trouble picturing a “sagacious serpent,” but no trouble picturing a “shrewd” one.)

This (Matthew 10:16) is a nice example of how a text can be changed through translation.

The Greek is φρόνιμοι (frónimos), which Google Translate defines as “wise, prudent, sensible,” and is in opposition to the dove, which is ακεραιος (akeraios) which is “unmixed, free from guile, innocent, simple.”

The Latin is prudens, which has an original meaning of “foreseeing, foreknowing,” but which can mean “knowing, practiced, skilled,” and which most commonly was used to mean “sagacious, sensible, intelligent, clever, judicious.” It’s in opposition to simplex, which is “unmixed, free from guile, (morally) simple, without dissimulation, open, frank.” (It doesn’t carry the sense of “intellectually simple, stupid” that the English simple does. In medieval texts God is often described as simplex.)

Based on the Latin, “shrewd as serpents” seems to be an excellent English choice. ("Clever as serpents” works too, but you lose the alliteration.) I’m not sure if the Greek φρόνιμοι (frónimos) supports the same connotations.

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