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shameless pleading

Aegis, Purview

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Dear Word Detective: Can one use “aegis” and “purview” in the same sentence or would that constitute a redundancy? I want to write a letter to the FDA proposing that certain aspects of the cultivation, licensing, sale, use and taxation of marijuana should fall under their jurisdiction. — Dick Stacy.

Hmm. Are you sure you want to do that? Chances are you’ll just get a boilerplate form letter response, you know. But there’s also the chance that it’ll be delivered by guys wearing body armor and driving a tank. Out where I live they’ve taken to sending SWAT teams out at 4 am to talk to people adjudged to be using implausibly large amounts of electricity. Maybe it has to do with the light bulb law, ya think? Bright lights, big trouble, as Reddy Kilowatt would say.

Using “aegis” and “purview” in the same sentence wouldn’t be truly redundant, because the words are not precise synonyms. They are similar in meaning, however, so the syntactic logistics of usage might be tricky. You don’t want to distress the poor cubicle rats at the FDA.

“Aegis” and “purview” both first appeared in English in the 15th century. “Purview” was originally a legal term meaning the “substance and intent” of a statute, what the FDA would call the “active ingredients” of the law. Our English “purview” comes from the Anglo-French phrase “purveu est ke,” meaning “it is provided that,” which was a standard clause preceding the specific terms of a law. Over the next few centuries, “purview” expanded to mean “scope, authority, supervision” of nearly any office, agency, person, etc., which is the sense most often seen today. Many of the more general modern uses of “purview” seem to have been influenced by the “view” part of the word, which has lent “purview” a connotation of “oversight or range of vision,” both figurative and literal (“In a twinkling she was hidden by the turn [of the road] from the purview of the castle,” 1903). But usually “purview” just means “authority or control.”

“Aegis” (pronounced either “ee-jis” or “ay-jis,” your choice) is actually a Latin word, from the Greek “Aigis,” the name of the shield of Zeus in Greek mythology. “Aigis” is presumed to come from “aix,” meaning “goat” (specifically “aigos,” or “of goat”), because the shield was made of goatskin. (“Shield” in this context includes protective clothing, which makes that “goatskin” a bit more plausible.)

“Aegis” was initially used in English in specific reference to Greek mythology, but by the mid-18th century it came to be used in a figurative sense to mean “impregnable defense or shield” or, more generally, “the backing or support of a person, institution, etc.” (“He cast over them the aegis of his own mighty name,” 1865). “Aegis” is often used in the phrase “under the aegis of,” meaning “under the control, auspices or authority of” a person, agency, government, etc. (“More than half of the pupils studied were enrolled at schools under the aegis of the Chicago International Charter School,” 2006). “Aegis” is also often used in the sense of “strong influence or guidance” or even “control.” All these figurative uses of “aegis” only began to appear in the 1930s, and were roundly denounced by usage traditionalists even in the 1960s, but are considered standard today.

So “aegis” and “purview” share a bailiwick and nearly overlap in sense at times, but there remains a shade of difference. In terms of the FDA, for example, the classification of drugs falls within their “purview,” but a change in the legal status of a drug would be done under their “aegis,” i.e., with their official approval. You could say that “purview” is the scope of their authority and that “aegis” describes the exercise of that authority or control.

1 comment to Aegis, Purview

  • Wundr

    How about contrasting bailiwick and purview. Can you provide sentences for example wherein it would NOT be proper to use versus the other?

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