Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Words ~ chary, wary, and leery

Is this squirrel wary? or leery? or chary? or maybe just cautious?
Joy at Joy's Book Blog found a new word in her reading this week:
I also learned a new word!  This was from a piece by John Parker, a conductor on the Underground Railroad, about some of his terrifying adventures.  He worked better with people who traveled a long distance to get to his location on the Ohio River — their experiences made them strong and resourceful.  The runaways from the Borderland were more inclined to make rookie mistakes and have out-sized expectations.  He introduced a story about them with this sentence:
"I had an experience with one of these uncontrollable groups which made me very chary about my fugitives ever after" (p. 98).
According to my Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (1979), chary has the same root in Old English as care.  It means "discreetly cautious," and especially "hesitant and vigilant about dangers and risks."  This is such a good word that I’m surprised I haven’t run across it before.  I’m going to use it as a kind of cross between cautious and choosy when there’s an element of risk involved.
Since Joy had put the word chary in the title, I immediately recognized it and compared it to leery before googling the word to check my one-word definition.  Rather than get out my dictionary (the same one Joy has, but mine is still packed in a box from my move last summer), I googled chary and looked at the synonyms.  The first synonym I found for chary was wary, but leery was also mentioned in the list.  (Yay!  I remembered correctly!)  I looked up leery and found both wary and chary as synonyms.  I looked up wary and found leery as a synonym, but not chary.  Oh, well, close enough to say that these three words mean pretty much the same thing:  cautiously reluctant to do something.

While playing around with these words, I also ran across a delightful article from 2004 by James J. Kilpatrick:  What's the difference?  Chary, wary and leery.  Basically, it says these are "three terms that may be defined under a general heading of cautious."  Oh, but how beautifully he says it in three short paragraphs before going on to discuss other words.

Wondrous Words Wednesday is hosted by Bermudaonion’s Weblog.  Kathy says:  "Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading."  Kathy also asks:  "What words do you want to celebrate today?"


Joy said...

What a fun exploration of these words!

Tea said...

This is a very interesting post. Thank you.

B Reading said...


bermudaonion said...

Cautiously reluctant isn't such a bad thing. Hopefully, I'll remember these words next time.