Dr. Goodword wrote:• pratfall •
Pronunciation: præt-fôl (-fawl) • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A fall on the bum, bottom, rear, butt. 2. A mortifying blunder, an inexcusable act of stupidity.
Notes: Although prat originally referred to the human rear end, today it generally refers to a foolish person or someone who has just done something foolish: "Take the lampshade off your head, you prat!" It fits anywhere the A-word goes but connotes, in the US at least, a speaker with a more diverse vocabulary. It is far more common in the UK and Australia than in the US.
In Play: The original pratfall was the one featured in the slapstick comedies of the 20s, a quick fall backward on the cushion apparently created for just such occasions: "Sue Pine wasn't watching the black ice on the sidewalk and did a perfect pratfall in front of her blind date." (Lucky he was blind.) However, considering the rate of population growth, metaphorical pratfalls must be much more common: "Bragging to the boss that he had seen the boss's wife in Vegas with the new CFO turned out to be a major pratfall in I. Malone's short career at the company."
Word History: No one seems to know where the noun prat came from but it clearly originated in underworld argot. It is suspiciously identical in form to Scottish prat "cunning trick, prank", a noun with an adjective prættig "tricky, wily, crafty" in Old English, pretty today! This prat disappears from all published forms of English from Old English to 1478. Did it pick up a new, less acceptable meaning during this period? This would explain why we still use pretty, whose meaning certainly did change greatly over this period but not pret. However, since we have no written record of this period, it is pure speculation.
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As per the Dr.'s request, the word of the day for June 3:
- Grand Panjandrum
- Posts: 3194
- Joined: Wed Jan 03, 2007 12:41 pm
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At Baylor we philosophy majors had few extra-curricular activities, so I spent a lot of time at Baylor Theater. Pratfalls were popular and often discussed, but did not necessarily refer to a fall on the prat. Rather, as we used the term, it applied to any comic fall, one that comes to mind is tripping oneself and going flat on your face. Anybody else run into that wider usage?
I rarely have to admit a word is not in my vocabulary at all. I seem to have missed pratfall. I am glad to learn it. I may not spread its use as the definition of any clumsy or funny fall, as Luke and Perry suggest, but then I might.
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