ETIOLATE [EE-tee-uh-leyt] : to cause to become weakened or sickly; drain of color or vigor.

Yes, those are carrots in the photo to the right.   They are white carrots, which, I discovered, is the original color of carrots.  The article I read about them indicated that the Dutch wanted to create a vegetable that carried the color orange found in their flag, so they played with the genes of the carrot and added the color we have come to know as “normal.”   The white carrots, therefore, have a “washed out look to them” based upon our current understanding of what a carrot is supposed to look like.   Another way of saying that is to say that they have an etiolated look to them.  They are drained of the expected color.

I use this photo simply as an illustration.   We have all seen etiolated vegetables, especially celery, which, after a few days in the crisper begins to lose its green color.   Before we know it, that crisp, fresh, green celery is almost ghost-like in its appearance, having been drained of its green.

But etiolate is not a word restricted to describing vegetables.  It can also describe the appearance of a person who has been sick and has lost the fresh, rosy look in their face, their blood having been drained from the surface of the skin over an extended illness.  Or someone who has just received shocking news is said to have had “the blood drained from their face” … or etiolated.

It is a term which refers to a “washed out” look on someone’s countenance.   Some people are just very, very white in their natural appearance.  Their etiolated look is not a result of a transformation as much as a natural coloring.  Until fairly recently people tried to change that look by tanning, but of late the etiolated look has become fashionable.

There is also another way of using the term etiolated.  It has to do with the content of one’s thinking or speaking.  What could have been a fresh, crisp speech can be said to be etiolated, or pale by comparison.  It lacks verve, color.  It is bland, or dry.   One’s promulgated program is washed out, or lacking in energy.

A weed ago a candidate for the Rhode Island  1st congressional district, Anthony Gemma,  announced that he had uncovered shocking revelations about the incumbent, David Ciccilline, and would reveal them in a press conference in a few days.  He milked the expectations for nearly a week before holding a press conference which could only be described as etiolated.  It lacked specificity.  It was bland and generic.   The allegations he lodged were poorly presented and left the press members yawning.  Mr. Ciccilline went on with his life and his campaign.

Some would say that Governor Romney’s  campaign for president has been etiolated.  His on-camera persona is bland and colorless most of the time, preventing him from attaining the enthusiasm his campaign leaders hope for.   There has been somewhat of a “bump up” in that energy with the addition of his running mate, but it remains to be seen what the debates will look like on this score.

So, from carrots and celery to presidential candidates.  The word etiolate is a valuable term to add to one’s vocabulary.


Photo Credit: Marks and Spencer

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