He Did It All for the Etymologist Nookie

Before he landed in another heap of trouble for kissing-and-telling to Howard Stern about his fling with Britney Spears, Fred Durst-the backwards-baseball-cap-wearing lead singer of the rap-metal band Limp Bizkit-endured a pissy scolding from the media for allegedly concocting a word during his impromptu antiwar speech at the Feb. 23 Grammy Awards at Madison Square Garden.

“I just really hope we are in agreeance that this war should go away as soon as possible,” Mr. Durst said, and the amateur grammarians pounced.

“Is Fred Durst that Dumb? We’re in agreeance!” a headline in Salon howled. The New York Post said that Grammy watchers noted Mr. Durst’s “lack of grammar”; the Daily News, Variety and the Chicago Sun-Times , among others, dropped a mocking “[sic]” alongside the word. The Weekly Standard renamed Mr. Durst “Fred Dunce”; the Orange County Register called him a “dunderhead”; and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted that its “copy desk was in agreement that ‘agreeance’ isn’t a word.”

Well, looky here-“agreeance” is a word. And Mr. Durst used it properly, according to Jesse Sheidlower, the principal North American editor of The Oxford English Dictionary.

“It’s in the OED, ” said Mr. Sheidlower. “He did use it correctly.”

Reading from the text, Mr. Sheidlower said The Oxford English Dictionary defines “agreeance” as “the act of agreeing; AGREEMENT; agreement in several of its meanings.”

“It’s a perfectly regular formation,” he said. “‘ Agree ‘ is a common word; ‘-ance’ is a very common suffix. The meaning of sticking together ‘agree’ and ‘- ance ‘ is what you’d expect it to be.”

Still, Mr. Sheidlower acknowledged, “agreeance” is not exactly in heavy circulation. The earliest OED example of the word is circa 1540, the latest example of its usage dates back to 1714, and the dictionary terms the word “obsolete.”

“This is not a current word,” Mr. Sheidlower said. “This is not a common word.”

But “agreeance” isn’t totally dead. It is used with some regularity in Australia, where it pops up in occasional newspaper articles, and it also appears from time to time in legal documents. It even shows up in political testimony. Senator Bob Kerrey-now a university president at New York’s New School-used it in 1997 when he testified about I.R.S. reform before the House Ways and Means Committee. “We are encouraged by the administration’s agreeance that the I.R.S. must change,” Mr. Kerrey said.

On his Web site, blogger Matthew Yglesias argued that Mr. Durst’s finger-waggers owe him an apology. “If contemporary rock stars are using [‘agreeance’], I think all that shows is that it’s not as obsolete as the editors think,” Mr. Yglesias wrote.

Of course, there’s also the distinct possibility that, under the pressure of the Grammy spotlight, the pilloried Mr. Durst simply invented a word that happened to actually exist.

“I am sure he wasn’t reading Coverdale’s translation of Erasmus’ paraphrase of the New Testament, and came across it and decided to use it,” Mr. Sheidlower said. But, he added: “There is nothing to say that he couldn’t have spontaneously recoined it. Which I assume he did.”

Mr. Durst, now in New York City mixing Limp Bizkit’s new album, said, “I’m glad someone took the time to find out the truth.”

-Jason Gay

The First Annual Tom Junod Obituary-Writing Quiz

Pop quiz: Which of these excerpts are from Esquire writer Tom Junod’s Feb. 27 tribute to the late Fred Rogers, and which are from his July 2002 Esquire tribute to his late dog, Marco?

1) “He had gotten sick after our late return from summer vacation. He was strong, then he was weak.”

2) “His relationship with me was his relationship with us, and on Christmas Eve of this past year, I found out how strong that relationship was.”

3) “He was, however, a member of my household …. “

4) “In the shadows of our house there was a sense of time slipping away, hurtling forward in some paradoxically dilatory fashion, transformed by the addition of a terrible terminus.”

5) “When he saw good in me, he fixed on it and there was never a moment in which he didn’t try to make me live up to it …. “

6) “He loved so many people-and so many people loved him …. “

7) “I wonder how much love is possible in the human heart and the human soul. The answer, I know, is this: plenty.”

Answers: 1) Marco; 2) Mr. Rogers; 3) Mr. Rogers; 4) Marco; 5) Mr. Rogers; 6) Mr. Rogers; 7) Marco.

-Sridhar Pappu