In a Word: Maladroit

March 07, 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: MALADROIT

Take a perfectly good word, a positive word, like adroit, meaning skillful or clever — it's from the French á droit, meaning literally "according to right" or "properly." Then make mal — "bad" — a prefix, and you have reversed the meaning. Maladroit (mal-uh-DROYT) means "clumsy" or "awkward" in the purely physical sense, or "ineffective" and "bungling" in the figurative sense.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan followed the very same pattern in the creation of Mrs. Malaprop — mal plus á propos — in "The Rivals." The character in turn gave rise to the word malapropism, a word used in place of one it resembles, usually comically.

Example: That columnist's attempts at humor are as maladroit as Charlie Brown's pitches. (And no, I am not hinting at any particular columnist.)

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