Printable Version
Pronunciation: mahr-shêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, Verb

Meaning: 1. [Noun] A federal, state, or other law-enforcement officer. 2. [Noun] The highest military rank in the armies of some countries, e.g. a field marshal. 3. [Noun] The person in charge of a ceremony, as a parade marshal. 4. [Archaic Noun] A person who takes care of horses. 5. [Verb] To arrange in proper or logical order.

Notes: The final [l] of this word is doubled in British English (marshalled, marshalling), but not in American English (marshaled, marshaling). It is also doubled in the family name Marshall (as General George Marshall), so there is a tendency to add a superfluous [l] to today's Good Word.

In Play: Another source of confusion is the homophone, martial, which I've already written about in the language blog. So, now let's see if I can marshal all the meanings of this word in a single sentence: "Federal marshals today arrested Field Marshal von Ungluck before he could marshal his forces on the field to resist arrest."

Word History: The meaning of today's Good Word moved from that of a leader of horses to a leader of men. How so? We plucked it out of Old French when it was mareschal "horse groom". But don't feel badly about English 'borrowing' this word from French; French picked it up from Old High German marahscalc "horse-keeper", a compound made up of marah "horse" + scalc "servant". The former word is mare today. The interesting thing about the latter word is that it appears to be related to Old High German scelo "stallion", Lithuanian šuoliai "jump", and Sanskrit salabha "grasshopper", which suggests an original meaning of "jump". Is this because servants are supposed to jump when you speak to them?

Dr. Goodword,

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