• pillage •
pi-lêj • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, transitive
Meaning: To loot on a grand scale, to plunder, to take forcibly as spoils of war.
Notes: This bad Good Word has only a few relatives: the agent noun, pillager and a regular process noun, pillaging, which can double as an adjective (the pillaging hordes). Just remember that the backbone of this word is a double L, not a single.
In Play: I suppose we should begin with a reference to one of the legendary pillagers: "The Mongol-Tatar armies of Genghis Khan would as soon pillage a village as straddle a saddle." They did both very well: according to historians, they could stay in their saddles for four days on a diet of mare's milk and horse blood. We might think that we are lucky to avoid pillage, but the corporate raiders of the 80s and 90s pillaged, in a real sense, several US airlines and a few other companies.
Word History: Sometimes we find a word that knocked another out of the language. Today's word comes from an older verb, to pill, with the same meaning as to pillage. Apparently, this word was ousted by the noun (a) pill in an attempt to avoid confusion. Anyway, the older verb to pill came from Old French piller "to plunder", a verb from Vulgar (street) Latin pilare "to depilate (deprive of hair), shave, scalp, pillage". This verb came from the noun pilus "hair", poil today in French; pelo in Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. A variation of the verb to pill, to peel, has remained with a variant meaning not totally unrelated to scalping.
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