• strait-laced •
strayt-layst • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Narrow in scope, especially in the scope of social or moral principles, rigidly principled. 2. Wearing a tight garment (now rare).
Notes: Today's Good Word has been misspelled straight-laced so many times, that most US dictionaries now carry the misspelling as a legitimate alternate. The new spelling is an example of 'folk etymology', which we have discussed before. Since strait "tight, narrow" is no longer current in English, it has been replaced by the more familiar staight. However, strait-laced is more closely related to dire straits than it is to the straight and narrow (see Word History).
In Play: Strait-laced today most often refers to an overly conservative moral character: "Charity Ball is so strait-laced that she won't let her children use e-mail." This word, however, is still used from time to time to refer to other types of narrowness: "Prudence Pender's strait-laced view of life prevents her from enjoying all the opportunities it offers."
Word History: Today's Good Word is a compound of an outdated adjective, strait, often used as a noun, plus the past participle of the verb to lace. It originally referred to the wearing of corsets, which were laced up in back. The tighter (straiter) the corset was laced, the thinner the wearer appeared. Tightening the corset made movement difficult, however, so the figurative sense of stubborn and intractable in one's thought arose quite naturally. This word is still used as a noun in the word strait or straits (Bering Strait), now being replaced by the more recognizable word narrows (the Verrazano Narrows). Straits remains in the expression dire straits, which now refers to a position between a rock and a hard place.
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