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Sunday, April 18, 2004
After the brief flurry of interest in the odd Shakespearean word "concernancy", when Alistair Cooke used it in his very last Letter from America, we have seen another obscure 16th-century noun disinterred and given an airing in the last few weeks.

The new old word is "incuriosity".

It has acquired a fresh lease of life because of the army of pundits and punsters who have applied it to the President of the United States, Mr George W Bush, and his supposed lack of curiosity about US intelligence reports before September 11.

In particular, there has been criticism of Bush's lack of interest in an August 2001 CIA presidential briefing headed "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US".

Thinking back to their childhoods, the commentators have remembered the stories of Curious George, the amiable monkey who has starred in dozens of American children's books for more than 60 years.

From there, it's a small and irresistible leap to "Incurious George", and then on to persistent and repeated references to Bush's "incuriosity".

The punning connection with the friendly monkey seems to have been spotted first by Time Magazine, which used it in March. But it has since been taken up by many others, including the New York Times, which ran an editorial last week with the headline "The Price of Incuriosity".

The sudden popularity of this archaic term has been flagged up by Global Language Monitor, a Web site that tracks the use of particular politically-sensitive words and phrases in the media.

GLM has seen "incuriosity" race to the top of its charts, ahead of "quagmire" (as in "a Vietnam-like military situation"), "two Americas", "global outsourcing" (as in "how can we introduce protectionism to keep consumers subsidising American jobs?") and "war for oil", leaving far behind such outdated Iraq war terms as "embedded" and "shock and awe".
The live blog for everybody who lives and dies by the word. The UK's top guide to editing better and getting more respect for it is at www.e-editor.co.uk.

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