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pariah

Printable Version Pronunciation: pê-rai-yê Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. An untouchable in the Hindu hereditary caste system, someone beneath the lowest of the castes. 2. A social outcast, a tainted person ostracized from normal company and avoided.

Notes: We should find an abstract noun expressing the state of being a pariah, but writers have not been able to agree on one. William Faulkner in Absalom, Absalom! used pariahhood and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram has recently resorted to the rather clunky pariahism. Pariahship and pariahdom sound better and have been used widely and recently.

In Play: Pariahdom is usually evoked only by the most heinous of crimes: "Saddam Hussein's crimes against his own people made him a pariah in the civilized world." However, be careful, for even the smallest prank can sometimes lead to this brutally shameful repercussion: "Justin Case has been a pariah in the office since it was discovered that he was the one who put the goldfish in the water cooler."

Word History: Today's good and scary word probably originated as Tamil paraiyar, the plural of paraiyan "drummer, pariah caste", from parai "festival drum". (Tamil is a Dravidian tongue unrelated to Indo-European languages like Hindi and English.) The Tamil word originally referred to a tribe of South Indian sorcerers and ceremonial drummers who became untouchables when they took on unsanitary jobs as laborers and servants. British colonialists brought the word home from India; it first appeared in print in England in 1613. (Today we thank Kyle McDonald, Lexiterian who is very socially integrated into the Alpha Agora, for suggesting today's word there.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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