• arrant •
Pronunciation: æ-rênt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Complete, absolute, thoroughgoing, as an arrant knave. 2. (Obsolete) Wandering, vagrant, vagabond, as a knight arrant (better errant today).
Notes: Today's Good Word is a misspelling of errant that stuck. For years the two words meant the same. Recently, however, arrant has been used only in sense No. 1 above, while errant has kept the original meaning, No. 2 above. Since it is so archaic, errant is often placed after the noun it modifies (French style): a knight errant or a pastor errant, who wanders from church to church. The adverb arrantly is used, but no noun has offered itself yet.
In Play: You will probably want to use this word more often in its most recent sense: "Griswold, the arrant knave, embezzled money for years, planning to cruise the Caribbean in such arrant luxury as would put a Saudi sheik to shame." Although now archaic, errant is such a lovely romantic word, it is difficult to resist the temptation of using it: "I watched the sunset through shimmering tufts of her hair, tossed occasionally by an errant evening breeze."
Word History: Today's Good Word is, as mentioned above, a misspelling of errant, the present participle of French errer, a verb meaning (1) "to wander, roam" and (2) "to go astray wandering". We can see how these two discrete meanings can emerge from the figurative use of the basic sense, "to go wandering". The figurative use of the word in the sense of "wander off (the straight and narrow), go astray" led to the sense of "exceptional" and onward to "absolute". English also borrowed the French verb err "to err", another metaphorical sense of going astray. (We are happy that our errant Good Words reach Lew Jury and inspire him to suggest such words of today's quality to us.)