• pusillanimous •
Pronunciation: pyu-sê-læn-ê-mês • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Weak, cowardly, completely lacking in will.
Notes: The trick in successfully deploying today's Good Word in writing is to remember that the Ls are doubled, not the Ss. To use it successfully in conversations, we must remember that the accent falls on the middle of the five syllables (see Pronunciation). However, it moves over one syllable in the noun: pusillanimity [pyu-sê-lê-nim-ê-ti].
In Play: Today's word is rather long, but don't be too pusillanimous to try it when you want to refer to cowardice in a way that will go over the heads of most people: "The fact of the matter is that Lois Riske still lives in an apartment because she is too pusillanimous to assume a mortgage." It is particularly useful when talking about thrill rides like bungee jumping and roller coasters: "I thought Blanche Dwight too pusillanimous to ride the roller coaster, but she screwed up her courage and surprised us all."
Word History: Today's Good Word comes from Late Latin pusillanimis, a compound comprising pusillus "weak", from pullus " young animal" + animus "mind, soul". Pullus, the origin of English pullet, comes from the Proto-Indo-European root pau- "small", unchanged in Latin paucus "small". This word became Spanish poco "little" and French peu "little, few". In English it turned up as few and in foal. The ani- in animus goes back to a PIE word meaning "breath", also present in Greek animos "wind". The connection was between the wind, breath, and the soul, which ancients sometimes associated with the breath on a cold day. (Today we thank the animated mind of Mark Bailey for overcoming any trace of pusillanimity and sending in today's Good Word.)
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