Printable Version
Pronunciation: fræw-stee Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Stale-smelling, musty, dirty-smelling. 2. Disheveled, unkempt, mussy; dressed in frowsty clothing.

Notes: Today's Good Word behaves just like all English adjectives ending on -y. It comes with an adverb, a quality noun, and two comparative forms. The adverb is, of course, frowstily. The noun is frowstiness and the comparative and superlative are frowstier and frowstiest. (Don't forget to change the Y to an I.) Of course, the old Germanic comparatives are giving way to the French analytic forms, more frowsty and most frowsty. So, don't be surprised if you hear these expressions.

In Play: This word is heard more often today in the UK than in the US, but let's add it to the US vocabulary. It started out referring to a stale, funky smell: "The boys' dormitory room was rather frowsty with the smell of cigarettes and beer." However, like so many words, it wandered off course to come to refer to mismanaged dress: "Maud Lynn Dresser came to the party in—all I can say is—a rather frowsty outfit."

Word History: Today's Good Word is an example of what linguists call a blend but what Lewis Carroll called a 'portmanteau' word. His example chortle was created by smushing together chuckle and snort. Today's word was created by smushing together frowsy and fusty. It may have arisen out of a speech error, because we often hear others create portmanteau words on the fly. Sometimes they catch on (smog from smoke and fog), sometimes not (universery from university and nursery). The first component of today's word to enter English was fusty, originally the smell of used wine casks (14th century). Next came frowsy, from frowz, disheveled hair (17th century). Finally, someone confused the two in the 19th century (we don't know who) and, voila, frowsty. (We must now thank George Kovac for his recognition of frowstiness when he sees it and for suggesting we run the word for it as today's very Good Word. )

Dr. Goodword,

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