• pecksniffian •
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Sanctimonious, officious, hypocritical, pretentious and condescending, affecting high moral standards, hypocritically benevolent.
Notes: Here is an odd compound made up of two words that we recognize, but is hard to decipher. It is based on the noun pecksniff "a pecksniffian person", a word that has been spotted in print as late as 2002. You may capitalize both the noun and the adjective. However, we see no reason to do that, since both words have long since entered the English vocabulary as common nouns. We can even form an adverb, pecksniffianly, from it.
In Play: Pecksniffs reflect a sense of moral superiority: "Will Doolittle is a pecksniffian cockalorum, who thinks he sits at the right hand of God and all the rest of us are sinners, doomed to Hell." However, subtler uses are available: "The response of my officemate at my late arrival was a pecksniffian smile, as though he had never been late in his life."
Word History: The word's eponym is Seth Pecksniff, an unctuous, hypocritical character in Charles Dickens's novel The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-1844). The two words we see in today's Good Word are peck and sniff. The first of these started out as a variant of pick. The German correlate, picken, still carries both these meanings. The second of the two words we see here is related to sniffle, snivel and snuff, from the days when people inhaled snuff. There are many words in English words beginning with SN that refer to the sniffing organ, the nose, including snout, snoot, not to mention schnoz, schnozzola. All start with the sound of sniffing, an S + a nasal N.
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