• riposte •
ri-post • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, Verb
Meaning: 1. (Fencing) A quick thrust after parrying an opponent's lunge. 2. A timely counterstroke, a quick response to any situation, especially a quick, witty verbal response.
Notes: We clearly do not use today's Good Word enough, for it has not developed any family at all. No one seems to have even ventured to try riposter, though riposte may be used equally as an intransitive verb, as 'to riposte with a witty reply to criticisms'. Do not confuse a riposte with a retort. A retort is a sharp, angry or sarcastic, reply; a riposte is simply a quick reply which may or may not be witty, but is not in any way sharp. It is also unrelated to repost "to mail again".
In Play: Political candidates in the US succeed only to the extent they give a clever riposte to every critical attack by their opponent: "Siddie Hall appeared in a pair of stainless steel spikes for her televised riposte to her opponent's claim that she wore combat boots." But we find uses for this Good Word every day: "When asked if there is anything that shouldn't be missed during a visit to Newark, Linda Hand riposted, 'The plane'."
Word History: English borrowed today's word from Old French risposte, borrowed from Italian risposta "answer". The Italian word is a noun based on the feminine past participle of rispondere "to answer", which Italian inherited from Latin respondere, a verb made up of re- "again" + spondere "to pledge, promise". The Latin verb spondere derived from a PIE ancestor referring to a ritual act. The PIE root also made its way into sponsor and spouse, from sponsus "pledged", the past participle of spondere, polished a bit by French. English spondee "two long or accented syllables in a poem", comes from Greek sponde "libation, offering", which shares the same root. The semantic connection between libations and poetry emerges in the combination of songs and libations that were part of most Greek rituals. (Today's Good Word is our riposte to suggestions by readers James Stemwedel and Jan Arps. We raise a libation of gratitude to them both.)
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