Printable Version
Pronunciation: meez-li Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Paltry, meager, pathetically tiny, very scanty. 2. Worthless, wretched, miserable, very inferior. 3. Infected with measles.

Notes: Here is an erstwhile common word I heard recently and realized I hadn't heard it for a long time. I don't know if this results from infrequency of use, or because of my age-related memory loss. It has a Germanic comparison and superlative, measlier and measliest, and a noun, measliness. Don't forget to change the Y to I when spelling these.

In Play: The original sense (3. above) is rarely used today outside the field of medicine. It is used most commonly in the first sense above: "Henry drove 600 miles for a measly two hour conversation with Hermione." It is less often used in the second sense: "The measly twerp then shamelessly asked her out to dinner."

Word History: Today's Good Word began its life as an adjective derived from measles, like lousy, which started out meaning "having lice". It was originally used metaphorically to refer to pork that had been infected by porcine measles. There would seem to be no trace of this word in Old English, so it is presumed to have been borrowed from Middle Dutch mazalen "measles" or a remake of German miese "measly". These words seem to have come from the same Germanic base as obsolete mase "spot, freckle". Some scholars have traced it back to a PIE word meaning "rub, anoint" that produced Russian mazat', Serbian mazati, Polish mazać, and Czech mazat "smear". At this point, though, the waters are too muddy to pursue even this kind of speculation.

Dr. Goodword,

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