• miscreant •
mis-kree-ênt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, adjective
Meaning: 1. An absolutely disgusting scoundrel, reprobate, blackguard, thug, lowlife, cretin. 2. (Archaic) Heretic, pagan, unbeliever.
Notes: Today's Good Word began its life as an adjective, but today it is used far more often as a noun, so much so that it has accumulated its own adjective, miscreantic, and two qualitative nouns, miscreance and miscreancy.
In Play: I suppose we should avoid playing with such a serious word as this: "Like the US frontier of old, the Web attracts scammers, swindlers, grifters, chiselers, and other miscreants in large numbers." Today's political systems attract a larger than usual smattering of them, too: "Siddy Hall is a miscreant politician who simply follows where the money leads."
Word History: Today's Good Word began its life as Old French mescreant "disbelieving" (Modern French mécréant), from mes- "wrongly" + creant "believing", the present participle of creire "to believe". Creire is the French reduction of Latin credere "to believe", whose root is the source of many English Latinate borrowings such as credit, (in)credible, creed and credo. The Latin word comes from a PIE compound, kerd-dhe- "to believe", literally "to heart-put, put one's heart" from kerd- "heart" + dhe-/dho- "to put". Kerd- is the ultimate source of heart, with cognates throughout the I-E languages: German Herz, French cœuer, Portuguese coração, Spanish corazón, and Russian serdce. The semantic shift in this word is the result of confusion with miscreate "to misshape, malform" (This very topical Good Word crept into the mind of our old friend and veteran contributor Rob Towart, who kindly shared it with us.)
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