Word + Quiz: vagary – The New York Times


: an unexpected and inexplicable change in something (for example, in a situation or a person’s behavior)


The word vagary has appeared in three articles on NYTimes.com in the past year, including on Nov. 13 in the Opinion essay “Why Do I Eat Pigs, and Give My Dog Her Own Cowboy Hat?” by Jennifer Finney Boylan:

The question of which animals are my friends, and which are to be dosed with chili oil, is troublesome. I spend hours pampering our flat-coated retriever, a self-involved creature who spends her days lounging around on the furniture and lapping out of the toilet bowl. But remind me again why Chloe the dog is my friend, but cows and pigs, to name two other living beings, are just fine to chop into pieces and enjoy with Sriracha sauce? Why are summer goldfinches a source of joy, but the squirrels who eat the seeds I put out for those finches my sworn enemies?

… The degree to which animals make us feel good about ourselves does seem like a strange metric for deciding the fate of other sentient beings, though. Some of those decisions involve life and death, not just who gets Special Songbird Mix and who gets the chili oil. Sometimes I fear that it’s all random, that in the end my friendship with Chloe the dog is just the result of vagary and caprice.


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