Our Two New Words: “Cop To” and “Opprobrium”

My Two New Words: Entries in my Word Power Book (Photo: viv)

INFORMAL words have a bad rep in school, and nothing is going to change that anytime soon, or ever. The edict is loud and clear: don’t use, can’t use, cannot. I’ve written about this before, and how teachers instill such unnecessary paranoia and fear among the poor students when it comes to informal words.

But the kingdom of words is a democracy. All words and phrases have a part to play on this stage we call the world. So here’s one not to spite the teachers, but to nudge them out of their dull, hardened, closed, and crusted minds: Cop to.

I can already picture a teacher scratching an angry circle around the phrase, or perhaps a mean question mark by the margin. What’s this? Reminds me of a teacher who once scrawled a question mark over the word “Botox” in an expository essay written by a Secondary Four boy who had chosen to tackle the question on “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” This was in 2012.

I came across “cop to” in The New York Times, from Frank Bruni’s piece on 31 May 2017, How We Really Die. In two ways, largely, Bruni tells us: via communicable and noncommunicable diseases. In this article, he interviews former New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, famous for having waged wars against smoking and trans fats and coaxing people to eat smarter and exercise more, during his time as mayor. Today, he’s a champion at encouraging nonprofits and governments to work harder to fight noncommunicable diseases through Bloomberg Philanthropies.

One might think that Bloomberg was a “private health nut,” Bruni observed, but Bloomberg responded with candor:

Yes and no, he said, copping to too much bread and conceding that he means to exercise daily but often manages only four times a week. He hasn’t smoked in many decades, though.

cop to (phrasal verb) US informal
accept or admit to


Our next word, opprobrium, grew out of the ruckus from President Donald Trump, who’s had, over the last few days since his rejection of the Paris Climate Accord, the ugliest words hurled at him: stupid, insulting, spiteful.

Paris accord’s backers in US and abroad move to isolate Trump, The Financial Times reported in their FT Weekend piece on 3 Jun 2017. Trump’s “screw-you to the world,” to quote The New Yorker, was met with universal condemnation, and “Opprobrium was loudest among Washington’s closest G7 allies in Europe, Canada and Japan.”

opprobrium (n)
harsh criticism or censure

At the rate we’re going, opprobrium would soon be a popular word and everyone would have cause to use it. I only hope this stupid, spiteful, selfish sitting president would find time to read the Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’s encyclical on climate change—the very gift that was presented to him in his most recent visit to the Vatican. Trump did politely promise to read it.

The world only hopes.


early 18th century (as a verb): perhaps from Old French caper (‘seize’), from Latin capere

mid 17th century: from Latin, literally ‘infamy,’ from opprobrum (ob- ‘against’ + probrum ‘disgraceful act’)

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