In a Word: Panegyric

February 21, 2011|By John McIntyre, The Baltimore Sun

Each week, The Sun's John McIntyre presents a moderately obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar — another brick to add to the wall of your working vocabulary. Use it in a sentence in a comment on his blog, You Don't say, and the best sentence will be featured next week. This week's word:


Praise does not come easily to copy editors. If no man is a hero to his valet, few writers are heroes to their copy editors, who, like the valet, must pick up the strewn garments and make the client presentable for public display. So the various forms of praise, such as kudos (Greek for "glory" or "fame" — and, mind you, a singular noun, not a plural); encomium (from the Greek through Latin for "formal praise"); eulogy, the discreet misrepresentations we make of the recently deceased; and the grandest of all, panegyric, a public speech or text of some length praising a person or quality.

The word (pronounced pan-uh-JEER-ick) comes from the Greek panegurikos, "of public assembly," compounded of pan, "all," and aguris, "agora" or "assembly." The origins point to the highly public nature of the praise.

Example: When a copy editor does have occasion to use panegyric, it is with tongs, as in this passage from Samuel Johnson's "Lives of the Poets": "The Life of Cowley, notwithstanding the penury of English biography, has been written by Dr. Sprat, an author whose pregnancy of imagination and elegance of language have deservedly set him high in the ranks of literature; but his zeal of friendship, or ambition of eloquence, has produced a funeral oration rather than a history: he has given the character, not the life of Cowley; for he writes with so little detail that scarcely any thing is distinctly known, but all is shewn confused and enlarged through the mist of panegyrick."

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