More Words, Words, Words (2)

Back to it again: words and their derivation and meaning. To remind the reader: I am a fulltime and devoted writer. Therefore, words are my bread-and-butter. So that’s where I begin: bread-and-butter: according to Merriam-Webster, it means being as basic as the earning of one’s livelihood.

That brings me to a far more complex term, sycophant. Merriam-Webster has a lot to say about that word: “In ancient Greece, sykophantēs meant ‘slanderer.’ It derives from two other Greek words, sykon (meaning ‘fig’) and phainein (meaning ‘to show or reveal’). How did fig revealers become slanderers? One theory has to do with the taxes Greek farmers were required to pay on the figs they brought to market. Apparently, the farmers would sometimes try to avoid making the payments, but squealers—fig revealers—would fink on them, and they would be forced to pay. Another possible source is a sense of the word fig meaning ‘a gesture or sign of contempt’ (as thrusting a thumb between two fingers). In any case, Latin retained the ‘slanderer’ sense when it borrowed a version of sykophantēs, but by the time English speakers in the 16th century borrowed it as sycophant, the squealers had become flatterers.”

I’ll close with one more word: vanguard, meaning a group of people leading the way in new developments or ideas. The term comes from the Middle French, avant-guarde (forward guard). My understanding is that the word specifies those out in front of a movement, blazing new horizons.

More next time.

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