Is it possible to dement in a choiceful way?


My daughter has reported what she and her work colleagues clearly thought was an amusing conversation.

One of them had been sent on a workshop or some such event, and in describing it back in the office used a word and a phrase that the rest of the team raised eyebrows at.

First the word “choiceful”, which was clearly meant to signify that someone had the possibility of making choices. She excused its use on the grounds that it was American, at which the American among her colleagues said that he had been an American for over 40 years, and had never heard of such a word!

Second, it seems that the workshop must have included a section on dementia, because she then used the expression “he was dementing”. This also was the cause of some hilarity.

Enter the OED.

“Choiceful” does indeed have the meaning “Offering or affording choice, varied”, with two quotations – from Edmund Spenser (1591): “None of these..Mote please his fancie..His choicefull sense with euerie change doth flit.” and Joshua Sylvester (1605): “For costly Toyes; Silk Stockings, Cambrick, Lawne, Heere’s choice-full Plenty.” So although the word does not appear to have been found since the beginning of the 17th century, it is quite possible that it survived on the other side of the Atlantic, and is indeed “American”.

“Dement”: OED “put out of one’s mind, drive mad, craze”, so a transitive verb, from the Latin dÄ“mentāre; or alternatively, “give the lie to; to assert or prove to be false”, also transitive, from the French démentir. Neither of these fits the bill for “he was dementing”, which is an intransitive use, meaning, presumably “he was behaving in a fashion consistent with suffering from dementia”. Google gives about 394,000 hits for the form “dementing”, but many of them are for its adjectival use: “dementing illness” and such-like. Of these, only 1,010 remain when the phrase “was dementing” is searched for, and many of these are in websites that give the conjugations of verbs, but some are relevant, including this, from The Gossamer Thread by John Marzillier: “within a few weeks it was pretty obvious who was dementing and who was depressed”.

Despite appearances, it is actually very difficult to invent a meaning for a word which has not already been used at some time, somewhere.

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