Ex Officio and Pro Forma

EX OFFICIO: as a result of one’s status or position

PRO FORMA: (adjective) done or produced as a matter of form, as pro forma reports, or (adverb) as a matter of form or politeness, as he nodded to him pro forma, or (noun) a standard document, form or financial statement

Despite how it looks, ex officio (or ex-officio) does not mean “out of office.” I mean, it does, but more precisely it’s understood to mean “proceeding out from the office,” just as deus ex machina is “god from the machine.” Since we all bandy about our ex-wives, ex-boyfriends, or ex-parrots, it’s understandable so many people think ex-officio is a synonym for OOO or a former office holder.

Not so. When I discovered this active clothing company, I assumed that’s why they chose this name—their wares were to wear “out of the office.” Their About Us page says otherwise. Although why an adventure-themed company would choose Ex Officio as its name vexes me so. Perhaps their marketing department would care to comment?

Ex officio refers to a post one holds by virtue of another post held by the same person. The reigning monarch of the United Kingdom is the ex officio head of the Church of England. The Vice President of the United States is ex officio the president of the Senate. There need not be anything “elite” about this, despite the company’s protestations. In many companies, the IT manager is the ex officio webmaster. (This is a terrible idea, by the way, and 100% of IT managers agree with me.)

Pro forma has taken on the perjorative connotation of “mindless CYA,” and that is more understandable, since the actual definition kisses that concept. Why, then, would you name your promotional merchandise company Pro Forma? I get it sounds like “performance,” I get it has “pro” in it. But you’re kinda sorta saying your customers are only giving away swag or employee recognition for no other reason than because it’s the done thing, not because you have an intense passion for cool branded merch.

Fortunately, I couldn’t come across any news or blog posts grossly misusing these terms. Just these sorta-kinda company names. Let’s keep it that way

Otto E. Mezzo

BBC: Shakespeare gets Covid vaccine: All’s well that ends well

O for a news of wire!


Two patients, both alike in dignity
Against corona did they lay vaccines
From ancient puns break new comedy
Where Shakespeare japes make Twitter feeds obscene.

The second person to receive “the jab” against COVID-19 is none other than… William Shakespeare. As good luck would have it, the game was afoot immediately, with the slings and arrows of outrageous punning giving us pause.

But only for those who are familiar with the Bard’s work. As I lamented in a past article, that number is dwindling. The fault, dear readers, is not Instagram, but in ourselves, that we are underread.

Otto E. Mezzo


SAUNTER: “(verb) walk in a slow, relaxed manner; (noun) a leisurely stroll. Origin: Late Middle English (in the sense ‘to muse, wonder’): of unknown origin. The current sense dates from the mid 17th century.” – Oxford English Dictionary

Recently a friend posted a meme with a supposed quote from John Muir:

I don’t like the word hike. I don’t like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains – not hike! Do you know the origin of that word ‘saunter?’ It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, ‘A la sainte terre,’ ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.

Now, I immediately suspected: 1) John Muir never said such a thing; 2) the whole etymology was codswallop. Why? Because these clever word origins never pan out. Never.

Crapper was not named for Thomas Crapper. Posh is not an acronym for Port Out Starboard Home; neither does one tip To Insure Promptness. (We covered these and other too-clever-to-be-true etymologies in another article.)

This presumed genesis of saunter takes the cake, though. It’s not only clever and makes too fine a story, it also ratifies and bolsters the sharer’s inner desires, as does the attribution to John Muir.  

As it turns out, the originator (possibly) of this faux-meaning is the equally venerable Henry David Thoreau. In his essay “Walking,” Thoreau elevates the saunterers not because nature is a holy place, but because they are purposefully aimless and without a home. In fact, he adds:

Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering.

Again, this is a bit too precious, and one author posits Thoreau was hitting back at Adam Smith’s objection to sauntering, which to the economist signified aimlessness and a lack of industry.

As OED mentions, the actual origin of the word is more prosaic, possibly derived from santren, a Middle English word meaning “to daydream.” No one knows where that word came from, but the Online Etymology Dictionary cites one “absurd speculation”: the French word s’aventurer, meaning “to take risks.” Again, this sounds way too cute, and the site archly adds the OED finds this “unlikely.”

Now this is in no way a true lexicide. No one we’ve encountered uses saunter to mean anything but “walking leisurely.” Whether that’s good or bad depends on whether you hew closer to Smith or Thoreau’s attitude on life. If you think of yourself simpatico with John Muir, then saunter away. But don’t try to convince us the word has religious meaning.

 – Otto E. Mezzo

http://lexicide.com/here-were-false-etymologies-only-a-year-late/ https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1862/06/walking/304674/ https://www.etymonline.com/word/saunter

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— Lex and Otto