In a word: Festschrift

September 10, 2012|By John E. McIntyre | Th

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a moderately obscure but evocative word with which you may not be acquainted, another brick to add to the wall of your working vocabulary. This week's word:


English is a promiscuous language that bears traces of every other language that ever spent the night. Or, if you prefer a gentler metaphor, some foreign words are naturalized without getting their names changed at Ellis Island. 

One such word is festschrift (pronounced FEST-schrift), imported from the German. A festschrift is a book, a collection of articles by colleagues and former students of a noted scholar, celebrating the achievements of his or her career. A typical subtitle begins "Essays presented in honor of."

The word comes from slapping two nouns together (a Germanic practice that survives in English): fest, "festival," "holiday," "celebration," and schrift, "writing." The plural is festschriften.

Example: The OED cites a 1961 article in The Times of London: "The 22 ... historians who pay tribute to Dr. Gooch in this bumper Festschrift."

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