I was at the bowling club when a fellow walked up to me and shoved a piece of paper in my hand. The heading
said ineptoracy. It had a spelling mistake.
The heading should have been ineptocracy. But who was I to judge? After all, the word was unusual, so maybe it was a new word.
He might even have made up the word.
As I looked closer the word, allegedly from the Department of
Defence, had an explanation that led me to believe it was a made-up word, similar to ones that cross my desk on a daily basis.
“A system of government where the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing, and where the members of society are least likely to
sustain themselves or succeed, are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers.”
Now, there are enough clues there
to convince you that it is a made-up word.
But peopled are making up words every day.
Several people are
are making up definitions for inept every day. I qualify for most of them, although I hesitate at stupid, screwball, witless and a few other words.
So I checked.
I consulted Collins, Heinemann, Macquarie, Webster, and Readers Digest (Readers Digest said “an inept cook” but I by-passed that). I
checked Johnson and the First Real Dictionary from 1604.
Another Readers Digest dictionary in my possession said inept meant ”inefficient, incompetent, unskilled untrained,
unqualified, without dexterity, bungling, ineffective, ineffectual, awkward, clumsy, maladroit”. I would question unskilled. The most ept person in the world (yes, there is such a word) has to get a skill somewhere. Maybe he should have gone somewhere
else to get his skills.
My 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary didn’t also include ineptocracy, so I confidently expected it was a made-up word.
My big dictionary listed several words that included inept.
They included inept, inepticality, ineptitude, ineptly and ineptness, but no ineptocracy.
The word came from middle French, if you forget the Latin.
The earliest use of the word inept, that I could find, was in 1603. In that year Body of Man said: “A ineptitude to learn sheweth a drie and different braine”. In the same year Leviath talked
about the differences between apt and inept.
In October 1895 Cornhill Magazine said “the lawyers of the land were singularly inept when our soldiers and sailors were
at their best”.
Under inepticality the big dictionary said somebody who was a very pleasant person showed attacks of total inepticality.
Ineptitude meant the quality of being totally inept.
Ineptly meant in a totally inept manner, even the quality of being inept.
Ept came into the language very late, would you believe 1938, as an antonym for inept. It meant, according to my big dictionary, adroit, appropriate, effective. In that year EB White in a letter said
“I am much obliged to you for your warm, courteous and ept treatment of a rather week, skinny subject”. Several other people started using ept from that date.
But I wonder
if ept came from the word apt
Apt, according to my big dictionary, started life in 1791 to mean fitting. It gradually changed to “to make fit” and then to suit.
Probably not, although some dictionaries say yes.