In a word: puissant

November 05, 2012|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

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:


Even if you agree with the sort of people who adopted "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" from Willie of The Simpsons to refer to the French, you have to concede that a good deal of English comes from them, especially from those overbearing Normans of 1066 and thereafter.

The Normans, far from being surrender monkeys, were powerful, puissant, and make no mistake. Their word has been adopted wholesale into English (pronounced variously PWEE-sent, PWIS-ent, and PYOO-i-sent; I use the first), though it now has an archaic tinge.The noun form is puissance.

It derives from the Old French poeir, "to be powerful," and ultimately from the Latin posse, "to be able."

Example: The OED cites Dorothy Sayers in Clouds of witness: "The most noble and puissant prince Gerald Christian Wimsey ... did kill and murder Dennis Cathcart."

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