• pluck •
plêk • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. Courage, heart, spirit, boldness, guts. 2. Offal, entrails, guts, the heart, liver, and other viscera removed from animals during the cleaning process.
Notes: A person with pluck is unfearful though not fearless, someone who is willing to stand up to any moderate adversary or challenge. They are not quite daring and courageous—their courage is measured, better for many small challenges than one big one. A person with pluck is plucky and they do things pluckily. A plucky person would never hesitate to pluck a chicken but would not want to take on a dragon.
In Play: Pluck does us no good confronting a bear; pluck is courage for smaller things: "I'm surprised that Mandy Lynn had the pluck to tell the choir director that he was singing off key." Pluck also implies being forward if not gregarious in demanding what is right: "Libby, it took lots of pluck to tell Mikey to stop pulling your hair or you would sock him in the eye."
Word History: Today's Good Word originated in the verb pluck "to pull at (a guitar string) or pull out", especially to pull feathers from a fowl in making it edible. From that sense to today's was a long and rather tortured journey. The journey began in Classical Latin pilare "to pull out hair", from pilus "hair". (We now use dipilatories.) Apparently, this verb was extended in Late Latin to piluccare "to pull hair or feathers", though evidence is lacking. However, we would expect piluccare to become peluchier in Old French, and there it is: peluchier "to preen hair or feathers" (éplucher "to peel" in French today). Old Germanic borrowed peluchier and it came to Old English as ploccian "pull off, cull". Next (are you still with me?), somewhere between Old and Middle English the noun from this word, pluck, came to include not only to the feathers, but also the entrails of cleaned birds, then any type of entrails. Since guts have long been considered the home of courage by English speakers, it was but a short step from pluck as guts to its meaning today. By the way, the use of pluck referring to entrails is still alive today in Scotland, if only barely. (We are certainly grateful that Susan Ardith had the pluck to suggest today's Good Word.)
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