• statesman •
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A well-spoken leader in national and international affairs. 2. An intelligent, articulate, leader in any field, as an elder statesman of biology.
Notes: Today's Good Word is a derivation from state "the political organization of a sovereign nation" + the suffix -man [mên]—and not the noun man [mæn]. Although the suffix historically developed from the word, man, it has since become a suffix. Like suffixes, it is never accented and its plural is pronounced identical with the singular [mên]. Postman [post-mên] is thus gender neutral while mailman [meyl-mæn], oddly enough, is not. Mailman allows mailwoman because it is a compound of mail + (the word) man. Dr. Goodword thus agrees with the Oxford English Dictionary, Random House, and Merriam-Webster that this word applies to both sexes and disagrees with those who claim that it is a compound based on the word man that refers only to men.
In Play: "Margaret Thatcher is a British statesman" is therefore proper and politically correct English so long as "man" is pronounced as unaccented [mên]. We like to use the term to distinguish between genuine leaders in public affairs and those skilled mostly in the electoral process. "Lester is a clever politician but not much of statesman" would mean that Lester is better at getting himself elected to office than running the office he is elected to.
Word History: The stem of today's Good Word comes to us from Latin status "posture, attitude, condition, standing (in society)" via Old French estat. We moved the [e] to the end but kept the original, too, adding an [e] to the end of it, resulting in a second word, estate (again, English making the most of its lexical booty). The Latin word is a past participle of stare "to stand", which developed from the same PIE root as English stand, as well as the word for stand in virtually all Indo-European languages: Russian stat', German stehen, Spanish estar, Swedish står, to mention but a few.
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