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pseudepigraphy

Printable Version Pronunciation: su-di-pig-rê-fi Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: False attribution of authorship.

Notes: Today's well-established Good Word comes with all the accoutrements of other words ending on -graphy, such as photography and lithography. The adjective is pseudepigraphic(al) with the optional suffix -al which must be present in the adverb: pseudepigraphically. A work attributed to the wrong author is a pseudepigraph. Though the plural of this word is pseudepigraphs, the term pseudepigrapha is often applied in referring to all pseudepigraphs as a set.

In Play: Several publishing houses now publish dictionaries under the pseudepigraphy of 'Webster's', since that name is closely associated with dictionaries in the US. Webster's original dictionary, of course, is way out of date today. Some scholars think that many passages in the Bible were probably pseudepigraphic, since attributing work to someone with more authority would assure the true author of a wider readership—the same motivation behind the use of Noah Webster's name on a dictionary.

Word History: Today's Good Word combines a popular semi-compound (borrowed words that behave almost like English words in compounds) pseudo- "false" and epigraph "inscription" with the noun suffix -y. Epigraph combines the Greek preposition epi "on" with the stem from graphein "to write", so an epigraph is writing on something: an inscription in a book, on a statue or plaque, or elsewhere. The root of graphein comes from an earlier word that meant "scratch", which migrated through Old Germanic to become English carve. Pseudo has become a stand-alone word in English, referring to a pretentious person, someone who puts on airs. This word was reduced in the 1960s to pseud, which gave rise to a new adjective pseudy "affectatious, pseudo-intellectual", more popular perhaps in Britain than in the States. (To avoid any hint of pseudepigraphy, let's attribute the suggestion of today's very Good Word to Harry Murphy and thank him for it.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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