• roughshod •Pronunciation: rêf -shahd • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective and Adverb
Meaning: 1. Of horses: wearing shoes with protruding nails to prevent slippage. 2. Brutal or brutally, without concern for others or their opinions.
Notes: Today's word comes from the irregular past participle of the verb to shoe: shoe, shod, shod (formerly shodden). It appears in two other words reflecting on the quality of work, slipshod "wearing shoes loosely on the feet" and "of poor quality", and shoddy, probably a reduction of slipshoddy.
In Play: Don't forget the original meaning of this Good Word: "Randy Marathon rode his horse roughshod on the muddy course." Occasions do arise when it might be used. The second meaning, of course, is far more common today: "Harold ran roughshod over the people in his office until he noticed the voodoo dolls appearing his desk each morning."
Word History: Rough comes from Old English ruh, which would have come from an original root *rugh-, found in other words, too. There is a Norwegian dialect with a word rugga "a coarse coverlet" from the same root that is the probable origin of our rug. Swedish ragg "ruffled hair, clump" is another cousin, which may be the source of rag. The difference in sense between the English and Swedish may have been developed through the adjectives ragged and raggy, and Swedish raggig "shaggy, rough, coarse". (A 'thank you' and a tip of Dr. Goodword's hat to Katy Brezger today for pointing out the role of shoes in our ideas of quality.)