• myrmidon •
Pronunciation: mêr-mê-dahn • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A faithful follower who carries out orders unquestioningly. 2. A member of a warrior nation of ancient Thessaly, Greece, that was led by Achilles in the Trojan War.
Notes: Today's Good Word is very unEnglish, a fact brought about by its Greek heritage. It is not quite as pejorative as lackey and might be used to refer to someone who simply carries out tasks faithfully. It has been assigned an adjective, myrmidonian, and long ago someone thought to use myrmidonize as a verb, but the word didn't catch on.
In Play: The alliteration created by today's word next to its near synonym, minion, makes them a great pair for emphasizing the concept: "Our fearless leader, followed by his minions and myrmidons, stormed into the conference room and took control of the meeting." In the singular, it offers a welcome respite from all its synonyms: "That hen-pecked twerp, Ben Dover, is nothing but his wife's chief myrmidon."
Word History: Since today's word comes from a proper noun, the likelihood that it has a traceable etymology is slim to nil. The interesting historical question is, however: how did the name of a warrior nation that fought bravely in the Siege of Troy come to refer to a docile follower? The explanation goes back to a pseudo-etymology apparently introduced by the French in the 16th century. The French associated this name with the Greek word myrmes "ant", shifting the meaning to "insignificant person". English then (re)combined this meaning with the original sense of the followers of Achilles. (Frank Myers of the State University of New York, Stony Brook, is anything but a myrmidon for having the gumption to suggest today's Good Word.)