Who escaped high school English classes without having to study, memorize, or recite such elegies as “O Captain, my Captain” by Walt Whitman or Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray? At the time the themes seemed morbid and funereal to a teenager, but it was an important piece of literary inquiry which would bear fruition in later study. We learned clearly that an elegy was a poetic expression of sadness and lament.
I was surprised, therefore, in reading an article in the New York Times yesterday to see the adjectival form of the word elegy, elegiac, used in a way that clearly went against the meaning I have lived with for decades. In writing an article about Senator Scott Brown (R, MA) journalist Katherine Q. Seeley refers to his recent TV ads which have featured prominent Democrats who support Brown in his re-election bid as “elegiac commercials.” I’m not sure what meaning Ms Seeley meant for the term, although I’m sure it was intended to be complimentary. However, the ads are not poetic, and certainly have not been created to create sadness or lamentation (except, perhaps, for his Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Warren.)
It’s a curious experience of a profound word seeming to fit into a very positive article, but, nevertheless, sending out the wrong message to the readers who may take the time to inquire about the meaning of the word. Stumbling upon this gaffe is a reminder to writers to use caution when trying to employ elegant terminology.
Photo Credit: Savio DSilva Network