• marathon •
mæ-rê-thahn • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A grueling long-distance race; if a foot race, usually 26 miles, 385 yards (42.195 kilometers). 2. An activity with many steps, usually requiring great effort and concentration.
Notes: Someone who runs a marathon may be called a marthoner. This word is a lexical loner, saved from being an orphan by the one derivation above. However, several words have been created via a misunderstanding of the structure of this word: telethon, hackathon, talkathon, and walkathon are the only four that have made it into a dictionary.
In Play: Today's Good Word is mostly used in reference to an official marathon: "The best time of Randy Miles in the Boston marathon was 4 hours." However, this word may also be used metaphorically: "Retirees can watch a marathon of TV episodes over the weekends."
Word History: Today's word was taken from French marathon, coined in 1894 by linguist Michel Bréal for the first modern Olympic Games after Marathon, a town located about 20 miles northeast of Athens. According to Greek legend, Phidippides ran the distance from Marathon to Athens to deliver a message of the Greek victory over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. Having delivered the message, legend has it, he fell prostrate and died. The sport of marathon running is based on a run approximately the same distance since 1908. The toponym itself means "fennel field" in Greek and refers to the prevalence of that plant in the area. (Eileen Opiolka has recommended a marathon of words like today's for our Good Word series.)
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