• sobriquet •
Pronunciation: so-brê-kay • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A characteristically relevant or otherwise special nickname for someone.
Notes: Nicknames are closely associated with given names: Bobby for Robert, Will or Bill for William, Liz for Elizabeth and Molly for Mary. The nicknames are inseparabale extensions of the given names. A sobriquet, on the other hand, is a unique 'moniker' with a special meaning for a particular person, e.g. Dubya for President Bush, Satchmo for Louis Armstrong, Yankee for a US citizen, or Uncle Sam for the USA itself.
In Play: While we generally agree on our nicknames, sobriquets are usually conferred on us by others: "Most Americans were surprised to learn that President Bush's sobriquet for Carl Rove, his chief political advisor, is Turd Blossom." Sobriquets may be insulting or affectionate: "The sobriquet of the Indian social reformer Mohandas Gandhi was Mahatma 'great soul' for good reason."
Word History: Today's Good Word came from French sobriquet; how it got into French, no one really knows. One explanation, apparently originating in the 1898 New Century Dictionary, is that it came from an older version, soubriquet, based on sous "under" + bréchet "throat, wishbone" and referred to a chuck under the chin that was an affront. The problem here is the difference between a throat and a chin, observed even in France. Briquet now means "[cigarette] lighter" in French. (Today's Good Word was suggested by Susan Lister, e-friend extraordinaire, and Mark Bailey, whose sobriquet is just 'Bailey' in the Alpha Agora.)