demur (hesitate) - obsolete?

SuprunP

Senior Member
Ukrainian & Russian
It is hard enough for most people to force themselves to see a dentist for an annual checkup. Accomplishing a larger, longer-range goal can be so daunting that we often never confront it.
The reason we demur, psychologically, is that self-control does not give us enough sustained motivation to achieve big plans.
(Scientific American Mind; Volume 16, Number 2; Taking the Reins)

demur, v
†3. intr. To hesitate; to delay or suspend action; to pause in uncertainty. Obs.
OED
Have I understood the meaning of the word 'demur' correctly and is it really that obsolete?

Thanks.
 
  • natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    The OED indicates that the more literal meaning of delay (OED sense 3) is obsolete, but that the commonest motivation for that delay, namely doubt and reluctance, has become the primary focus (OED sense 4).
    4 a. intr. To make scruples or difficulties; to raise objection, take exception to (occas. at, on)
    b. trans. To object or take exception to. rare.
    I think it is in this sense that we use demur​ these days, and that is my understanding of the quotation. We are reluctant to see the dentist because of some fear of the dentist. It's not just the delay but the reluctance and fear that is the focus.

    This is also the sense given in the WR Dictionary:
    demur /dɪˈməː/
    ▶verb (demurs, demurring, demurred)
    raise doubts or objections; show reluctance.
     
    Last edited:

    Beryl from Northallerton

    Senior Member
    British English
    It usually means 'to object (to)' or 'to balk (at)' or 'to dissent (from)', all of which to a greater or lesser extent involve hesitation, delay or suspension. So in summary, I'm uncertain why this OED entry reports that this †3 meaning as Obs.
    I wonder what the first two meanings were.

    EDIT: cross-posted with natkretep
     

    Beryl from Northallerton

    Senior Member
    British English
    Thanks for that natkretep. And what is the OED convention with regard to the numbering of their definitions? I have an expectation, albeit naive, that the obsolete usage would either come first or last.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    And what is the OED convention with regard to the numbering of their definitions? I have an expectation, albeit naive, that the obsolete usage would either come first or last.
    Within an entry, OED definitions are given in date order, oldest meaning first.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    As a side note, demurrage is still the name for a charge in the shipping industry when a client is slow to retrieve a shipment once it arrives.

    When I encounter "demur", which is rarely, it usually appears to have the sense of putting something off, much like procrastinating, because there is some underlying objection. I don't think I've encountered it as "balk (at)" or "object (to)". Then again, I may have just assumed the meaning from previous encounters. To me, to balk at something or to object to something is more active and direct than demurring.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    The reason we demur, psychologically, is that self-control does not give us enough sustained motivation to achieve big plans.
    Here, 'demur' is nearly equivalent to 'refuse'. It could be replaced by 'choose not to' [confront it].
    This is a regular and current use of the word.
     

    Beryl from Northallerton

    Senior Member
    British English
    For what it's worth, I also see demurrals as somewhat more passive, or indeed lateral forms of objection - more like an abstention than a vote against.

    Within an entry, OED definitions are given in date order, oldest meaning first.
    I see that my expectation was indeed naive. I should have given it another moment's thought.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Here, 'demur' is nearly equivalent to 'refuse'. It could be replaced by 'choose not to' [confront it].
    This is a regular and current use of the word.
    "Choose not to confront it" makes sense to me. "Refuse" does not. A refusal is a direct confrontation. To me, demur is more passive, like procrastinating or prevaricating. It is an avoidance of confronting something directly.

    "He asked her if he could see her tonight and she demurred" does not mean to me "..and she refused." She could have changed the subject, made some polite excuse or answered with a question that put it back in his lap, so to speak.
     
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