Printable Version
Pronunciation: mi-di-esk Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Here is a word fast on its way to becoming an eponym. It will have achieved eponymous status when we stop capitalizing it. It describes someone who lives a humdrum life but daydreams of being the hero of exciting adventures, like Walter Mitty.

Notes: Today's Good Word has a surprisingly large family. It is based on the name of Walter Mitty, the fictional (anti)hero in James Thurber's first short story, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (The New Yorker, March 18, 1939). Actually, we may use his surname, Mitty, to refer to anyone like Mitty, i.e. who is Mittyish or Mitty-like.

In Play: Mittyesque was created by adding the French suffix -esque to the surname Mitty: "Sheila leads such a Mittyesque life she'll be lucky to find a husband." Walter Mitty was an escapist who led a humdrum life filled with unrealistic flights of fancy: "Henny Peckham is a Mittyesque character who often shares his fantasies as actual adventures with his friends and acquaintances."

Word History: There is no evidence of the origin of Mitty, but Walter (or Walther) is a German given name derived from Old High German Walthari, composed of the root of waltan "to rule" + hari "host, army", hence "ruler of the army". English borrowed it from an Old North French variant, Waltier, which North French borrowed from German. Old Germanic created waltan from PIE wal- "to be strong", which ended up in Latin valere "to be strong", whose root we see in the English borrowings valiant, valor, and value. It came to English through its Germanic ancestors as wield. Hari came from PIE kero-/koro- "war, army", which arrived at English's doorstep as Old English here "army, host", which survived only in the surname Heriot. However, the PIE word also went into the making of the native word harry, and harangue, which English borrowed from Old French. (We owe a debt of gratitude to Eric Berntson, who only hesitantly suggested today's surprising Good Word in the Agora.)

Dr. Goodword,

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