Printable Version
Pronunciation: his-tree-ah-niks Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: 1. Acting, especially melodramatic acting. 2. Theatrical speech or action, melodramatic overreaction.

Notes: The suffix -s on today's Good Word has led to a lot of confusion. This suffix serves multiple functions: it is a plural and possessive marker, but it also turns adjectives into mass nouns like physics and linguistics. Histrionics is such a word; however, it has been misused with plural verbs so long ("histrionics are" rather than "histrionics is") that most dictionaries now allow either agreement. The adjective, of course, is histrionic, as in "a histrionic reaction to the news".

In Play: Histrionics is an emotional overreaction—real or otherwise—to an upsetting situation: "I hate playing poker with Jack Uzi because of his histrionics about going to the poorhouse every time he loses a game." Anything that sets off emotions is likely to lead to histrionics: "Martha Sviniard's talk at the 'Eggs and Issues' breakfast yesterday was filled with histrionics about the candidate she supports."

Word History: Today's Good Word came from the Latin adjective histrionicus "acting, theatrical", based on histrio(n) "actor", an extension of hister with the same meaning. This word appears to have been borrowed from the Etruscans, who inhabited much of Italy from about 750 BCE until the Romans conquered the territory and assimilated them. The Romans originally referred to these people as Etrusci, but on the street it became simply Tusci, a root that remained in the name of the region of Tuscany. Believe it or not, the word is unrelated to history, which traces its origins back to Ancient Greece. History is probably based on the same original root as eidos, mentioned in the Good Word, eidolon. (We would like to thank Jackie Strauss for suggesting today's Good Word quite sincerely, without histrionics.)

Dr. Goodword,

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