• pungent •
Pronunciation: pên-jênt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Sharp, biting, or acrid in taste or smell. 2. Pointed, biting, stinging, as a pungent wit or a pungent pain. 3. Pointed, ending in a point, as a pungent leaf.
Notes: Today's Good Word is a full-function adjective with a proper adverb form, pungently, and two appropriate nouns: the more popular pungency, and the equally acceptable pungence. In English, of course, nouns are regularly made from adjectives ending on -ent or -ant by replacing the final T with either CE or CY or both. Anything only mildly biting is poignant, a word I have written about before.
In Play: Pungency is most commonly associated with tastes and smells: "The pungent aromas emanating from the Indian restaurant were more than Stu D'Amato could resist." However, this word applies to a much broader world of situations: "Barb Dwyer's pungent wit to me is nothing more than a pungent pain in the rear I have to put up with."
Word History: Today's Good Word originates in pungen(t)s "piercing, stinging", the present participle of pungere "to prick, pierce, sting". The original root apparently meant "to punch", and like punch came to mean both "hit" and "pierce". The original root had a Fickle N that disappears (or leaps over the G) in pugnus "fist", a word that underlies pugnacious. The word for "fist" in Greek was pygme, which English also borrowed as pygmy in a bizarrely different sense. The same root turns up in several other words borrowed from Latin, including pugilist, repugnant, and pounce, related to hitting, and puncture, poignant, and impugn, related to piercing. (Today we thank the decidedly unpungent Ruth Baldwin for suggesting today's spicy Good Word.)