• senior •
Pronunciation: seen-yêr • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective, Noun
Meaning: 1. The older of two, abbreviated Sr., as 'a father and son named John Smith, Sr. and John Smith, Jr.' 2. A politically correct synonym of old, as 'a senior citizen'. 3. Related to the final year of high school or college (adjective), as 'a senior year college', or a person in that year (noun). 4. Higher in rank, as the senior partner in a law firm.
Notes: Historically, old people have enjoyed a position of respect, referred to as elders, as in respect your elders. For some reason, intellectuals in the US have decided that old is a bad word, since old people are often overlooked for jobs in this society. For this reason, the phrase "old people" has been replaced in politically correct parlance with "senior citizen". The adjective has a noun, seniority, referring to time on the job or a higher position in a ranking system—two qualities that should go hand in hand.
In Play: Today's word is probably used most often in distinguishing fathers and sons sharing the same name, but it can also refer to someone higher in rank in an institution: "One of our senior officers in the Marines, Major Domo, was given a dishonorable discharge for being rotten to the corps." Don't confuse the various meanings of this word: "By the time Lucinda Head reached her senior year in college, her parents were living in a retirement home for seniors in New Monia."
Word History: Today's Good Word is Latin senior "older", the comparative degree of senex "old". This word comes from Proto-Indo-European *sen- "old", which also shows up in Sanskrit sanah, Armenian hin, Greek enos, and Lithuanian senas—all meaning "old". The root appears in many English words borrowed from Latin, such as senile, senescent, and senate, originally a body of elders. The Latin word senior survives today as Spanish señor, Italian signore, Portuguese senhor, and French sire, which English borrowed as sir. Sir originally had an adjective sirly meaning "haughty, arrogant like someone accustomed to being called 'sir'." Over time, however, the meaning shifted dramatically, leading to a spelling change that produced today's surly. (It would surely be a surly omission to miss thanking Leo Danze for suggesting today's Good Word with its fascinating history.)