• doyen •
(US) doy-yen, (UK) doy-yin • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: The dominant, most respected senior member of a profession, activity, or society.
Notes: It may be politically incorrect to use the feminine variant of today's word, doyenne, but it persists even today. We seldom hear or read today's word nowadays, perhaps because of the loss of respect for our elders. Because this word has maintained its 'Frenchiness', it hasn't produced any lexical derivatives, nor did it bring any with it from French.
In Play: Today's word is a more sophisticated substitute for longer and more colloquial expressions like, "the grand old man of (baseball) ", "the dean of (sportscasters)", and the like: "When he retired, Walter Cronkite was the doyen of the US press corps." We read many unkind headlines like this one: "Martha Stewart: Domestic Doyenne or Goddess of Greed?" Ms. Stewart has also been referred to as the life-style doyenne, the doyenne of gracious living, and others.
Word History: Today's word was borrowed from French doyen/doyenne "dean, most senior member", the legitimate heir of Late Latin decanus "leader of ten" from Greek dekanos "chief of ten", based on Latin decem and Greek deka "ten". The root dec- "ten" occurs in many English words borrowed from Latin, including decimate, decimal, decade, and what was the tenth month of the Latin calendar, December. English ten derives from Old Germanic version of dec-, tehun, along with German zehn, Dutch tien, Swedish tio, and Danish and Norwegian ti. (Today we thank Katy Brezger, the doyenne of the Alpha Agora, for recommending today's exceptionally Good Word.)
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