Printable Version
Pronunciation: mahr-plaht Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A person or thing which hinders or ruins an undertaking, a screwup, a bungler, a spoiler.

Notes: Today's Good Word is another absolute lexical orphan—no derivational relatives. We might note that mar- was a popular combining form in the 18th and 19th centuries. We find it in mar-all (17th century), mar-feast (dinner party-pooper), mar-good, and mar-joy (killjoy).

In Play: Marplots often turn up in minority political parties: "The filibuster is the political tool of congressional marplots, who resort to it more and more these days." However, we meet them everywhere: "No, don't put Donny Brooke on my committee; that marplot will screw up all our plans."

Word History: Today's Good Word is an eponym of a character in Susana Centlivre's 1709 play, The Busie Body. Centlivre describes her Marplot as "[a] sort of a silly Fellow, Cowardly, but very Inquisitive to know every Body's Business, generally spoils all he undertakes, yet without Design." Centlivre composed her character's surname from two words, mar + plot, capturing the sense of someone who spoils even the best laid plans. Mar comes from Old English merran "to spoil", Proto-Germanic marzjan "to annoy, to offend" from PIE root mer- "to harm". It emerged in several Indo-European languages with the sense "forget": Sanskrit marsayati "forget, forgive" and Lithuanian užmiršti "forget" are two examples. The origin of plot is unknown. (Davida Gregory is the farthest thing from a marplot of our daily word series, for Davida recommended marplot as today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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