• swoon •
swun • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, intransitive (no direct object)
Meaning: To faint or be light-headed, giddy, as though on the brink of fainting.
Notes: Swooning seems to have gone out of fashion. 100 years ago the slightest mention of anything inappropriate (a vulgar word), exciting (a marriage proposal), let alone as upsetting as a death in the family would send a proper young lady into a swoon. Swoons were reflected in a characteristic gesture—touching the forehead with the back of the wrist or the whole arm as depicted in the picture here. A picture of a swooning maiden can still be seen in the main titles of PBS Mystery, though hardly anywhere else. When swooning was fashionable, it was perceived as weakness of cultivated young maidens. You've come a long way, baby, and the journey left its mark in a trail of words like swoon.
In Play: Because swooning is a sign of weakness, it is usually associated more with women than with men: "Carmen Ghia swooned when she heard Philbrick refer to his underwear in mixed company." How times have changed. Nowadays, since it simply refers to giddiness at the brink of fainting, it is applicable to both sexes: "When Matthew returned from work the first day after his honeymoon, the unexpected aromas of Beverly's cooking caused him to swoon."
Word History: Today's Good Word is yet another of those extreme rarities: an original English word not borrowed from any other language! This one comes from Old English geswogen, the past participle of swogan "to suffocate". This verb evolved into Middle English swow "to faint" with a past participle swoon "fainted" which became the verb itself a bit later. A slightly longer version of the past participle devolved into aswoon, an adjective-adverb "to be faint-headed, about to faint".
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