• logomachy •
lê-gah-mê-kee • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. War over words, controversy about which word is the correct one. 2. War of words.
Notes: Believe it or not, today's Good Word comes with a plethora of relatives. Someone who fights with or over words is a logomachist. The adjective is logomachical. There is even a verb, logomachize, meaning "indulge in logomachy", which comes with an adjective, logomachizing, that someone has used at least once.
In Play: This word began in Greek meaning "war about words": "The recent logomachy in the US media over 'fiscal cliff' or 'fiscal slope' or 'fiscal curb' was won by the least descriptive phrase—fiscal cliff." Today the meaning "war of words" is generally accepted in US dictionaries: "Politics in the US consists of a series of empty logomachies with no victors." A candidate for political office, speaking at a town hall meeting, was interrupted by a shout from the audience, "You're lying!" The candidate replied, "Yes, but hear me out" (West Wing, episode 24).
Word History: Today's Good Word, as mentioned before, started out in Greece as logomachia, a compound noun made up of logos "speech, word, reason" + mache "a fight, a battle". Logos goes back to a Proto-Indo-European word that contained a vowel variation, log-/leg-, which went into the making of biology, cardiology, plus a rash of other "ologies". The leg- variant turns up in Greek lexikon "word book" and Latin lex, legis "law". The semantic connection between these two words has yet to be established. However, we do find the same root in Latin legere "to read", the source of legibilis, which English borrowed as legible. (Jeremy Busch has been known to participate in the polite logomachies in the Alpha Agora, where he submitted today's Good Word.)
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