In which a linguistic conspiracy is uncovered, and thwarted.
Lyman Stone used the word “disamenities” (in reference to hurricane destruction on Puerto Rico) because he needed an antonym for “amenity”. There’s got to be a better word for that, but one doesn’t come immediately to mind. Why isn’t there a word for things that are the opposite of amenities? We certainly seem to have enough of them around. Do we never talk about them? (My twitter feed indicates otherwise.)
Webster defines amenity as “The quality of being pleasant or agreeable, whether in respect to situation, climate, manners, or disposition; pleasantness; civility; suavity; gentleness.” and derives it from the Latin amoenus. What’s the opposite of amoenus? My command of Latin is is ineffectual as my command of cats, so let’s go look at the French. There’s no cognate term in French for “amenity” that won’t make you sound funny, but a good French word for “pleasant” is agréable, for which the antonym is fâcheux. Fâcheux comes from the Latin “fastidium”. The etymology for fastidium in Wiktionary is so good, I’m going to assume it’s true. Apparently portmanteau words pre-date Lewis Carroll by millennia. (Not to mention portmanteaux.) Much as I’d like to grab the Latin term directly, doctors already use it as a term for picky eaters, so that’s out.
But hello! The French dictionary only cites uses of fâcheux going back to the 16th Century. There’s a note at the bottom of that page: “Nevertheless it’s astonishing that fâcher, which, if it comes from the Provençal fastigar is certainly a very old word, doesn’t appear in any older texts.” For a long time, French people didn’t have the word I’m looking for, either. Except that can’t be true. The French of the Middle Ages must have complained about adversity as much as they do now. The difference is that only a small fraction of them could write. Did medieval monks make a conscious effort to assert that nice things are the normal state of the world, so that we only talk about bad things with a negative prefix? Are we still stuck in that frame of mind? This is Newspeak to me: double-plus ungood.
To fill in this lacuna, let us turn to the esteemed language scholar B. Baggins, late of Rivendell, who knew some things about adverse influences on economics and demography. The antonym of “amenity” should be “calamity”.