• portly •
Pronunciation: port-li • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Fashionably stout, comfortably plump, gentlemanly rotund (only refers to men) 2. (Archaic) Stately in demeanor, dignified in bearing.
Notes: Today's Good Word is used less often today than in days past. It is a euphemism for fat and its various synonyms. The saying goes, "Women are stout; men are portly." This old saw illustrates how the use of portly is restricted to men. The noun accompanying this word is portliness with the shift of Y to I, a shift which also occurs in the comparative forms: portlier and portliest. Of course, if you are under 50 you may use the wordier expressions, more portly and most portly.
In Play: Remember that portly means both "dignified" and "plumpish": "A portly gentleman entered the room and Maude Lynn Dresser immediately engaged and monopolized his company." This word is not restricted to men, though; it may be used for anything stately, rounded, and a bit large: "A portly china cabinet with a rounded glass door attracted your attention as soon as you walked into the dining room."
Word History: Portly comes to us from French porter "carry, bear, wear", a word inherited from Latin portare "to carry". We can see this French root in many borrowed English words: porter, who carries luggage, port, where ships bring things, and import, to carry in. Comport means "carry yourself", and refers to a person's bearing. This is the sense which initially attached itself to portly. In addition to borrowing this root from French, English acquired it directly from Old Germanic. In all the words inherited by Germanic from Proto-Indo-European, the Ps turned into Fs along the way. So we are not surprised to find ferry in English from the same PIE root. German fahren "travel by vehicle", and its English counterparts in farewell and thoroughfare, a street carries you through a city, are great-great-grandchildren of the same PIE root.