• larceny •
lahr-sê-ni • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass
Meaning: Theft, robbery by deceit with the intent of permanent deprivation.
Notes: Today's word belongs to a slightly higher register than robbery or theft. It has a legalistic connotation, though it has been abolished in England, Wales and Ireland in favor of a wider set of crimes, e.g. theft, burglary, robbery. The word is still accompanied by a personal noun, larcenist, and an adjective, larcenous. We have two kinds of larceny in the US: grand and petty, depending on the value of the take.
In Play: A major cause of larceny is precarity, teetering on the edge of poverty (or already in it). It is hard to imagine a figurative use of today's word; this is the best I can do: "Lee Israel, celebrated in the 1918 movie "Can You Ever Forgive Me?", resorted to literary larceny after her writing career stalled."
Word History: Today's Good Word comes to us from Anglo-French larcin, Old French larrecin "theft, robbery", inherited from Latin latrocinium "robbery, theft, piracy". This word is based on latro "robber, bandit; mercenary", borrowed from Greek latron "pay, hire". Greek got its word from a multiply suffixed form of PIE root le- "to get", source also of Greek latreia "worship (service to the gods), hired labor", latris "servant, worshipper" and English let. (This word was suggested by Joakim Larsson, our long-standing contributor who lives now in Sweden.)
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