Printable Version
Pronunciation: græ-fee-to Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun (mass?)

Meaning: A drawing or inscription on a wall where it shouldn't be.

Notes: In English the plural form, graffiti, is far more common than the Italian singular, graffito. The Italian plural is used as a singular mass noun the same way media and data are. Someone who scribbles on walls owned by others is a graffitist.

In Play: When the reference is to a particular inscription we may use the singular: "There was a graffito on the wall that read, 'No Graffiti!'" That was how the singular of today's Good Word would be used. Here is how the word is generally used, as a mass noun referring to graffiti collectively: "Graffiti depicting false subway schedules is a major problem for the Transit Authority Police."

Word History: Graffiti have been around since ancient Egypt, but this word for it is relatively recent. It is the Italian word graffito "a scribbling", the diminutive of graffio "a scratch or scribble" from graffiare "to scratch, scribble". Italian probably inherited this word via Vulgar Latin graphiare "to write with a stylus", from Latin graphium "stylus", based on Greek graphein "to scratch, draw, write". Greek inherited its word from Proto-Indo-European gerbh- "to scratch", which turned up in English as crab and in German as Krabbe. The Greek root appears in a plethora of English borrowings from that language, including all words containing -graph and -gram: photography, biography, diagram, grammar, and program. Believe it or not, glamour traces its origin back to the same PIE word. (Time for a word of thanks to Barbara Kelly for suggesting today's fascinating Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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