Printable Version
Pronunciation: brænd-ish Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: 1. To wave or flourish an object in a threatening, excited, or triumphant manner. 2. To hold something out in front of oneself.

Notes: This word has been successfully reintegrated from French, so that all its relatives are native words. Someone who brandishes something is a brandisher and the act of brandishing is, well, brandishing.

In Play: Today's word is usually used to describe a threatening gesture with a weapon: "The police found Ally Katz still brandishing a can of pepper spray even though her attacker was long since gone." However, it may be applied to anything that is held out in front of yourself: "Everywhere Justin Bieber goes, he is met by hordes of fans brandishing pens for his autograph."

Word History: If you've spotted brand at the base of this word, you've pretty much pegged its origin. French borrowed brand from Old Germanic brand in the sense of a burning torch. It slipped into the sense of "sword" from there. At this point Old French coined the verb, brandir, the present participle of which was brandiss-, which English borrowed for its brandish. Apparently our ancestors used a hot sword to put their mark on animals. Brand in that sense then shifted to "trademark". The Germanic word turned up in English as burn, and as brennen and Brand "fire" in Modern German. The same PIE word was converted to thermos "warm, hot" in Greek. In Latin it became fornax "oven", whence the English borrowing furnace. (I think Perry Lassiter, Grand Panjandrum in the Agora, first recommended today's Good Word back—I'm ashamed to say—in 2012.)

Dr. Goodword,

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