A Momentary Slip

Remark by CBS Sunday Morning correspondent Rita Braver, January 12, 2014:

Gates’s library is filled with military momentums.

All of us find ourselves uttering the wrong word on occasion, the kind of lapse frequently called a “brain fart” (a neologism that blew in around 1980). The estimable reporter Rita Braver’s turn came during an interview of former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, on the eve of the publication of his book Duty. The intended word was memento, and the only thing it has in common with momentum is the date of both words’ first recorded use in English – c. 1600.

Memento – defined as “something kept as a reminder of a person, place, or thing” – comes from Middle English by way of meminisse, the Latin word for “remember.” Momentum, meaning “movement,” is Latin through and through. Among the words derived from momentum is moment, and any notice of Ms. Braver’s mildly embarrassing moment (embarrassing only in that it was broadcast on national TV) was momentary at the most.

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