Podcast misprision

Printable Version
Pronunciation: mis-pri-zhên Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: Well, none of us miss prison, but that has little to do with today's Good Word (see the Word History, though). The meanings of today's Good Word are: 1. Neglect or failure to do one's duty, either a legal duty or a duty of office. 2. Misunderstanding, miscalculation, or underestimation; failure to appreciate the value of something.

Notes: Today's Good Word is a noun derived from a verb that is sometimes spelled misprise, sometimes misprize. The latter seems to be preferred these days, but I prefer the old spelling since it is consistent with surprise, apprise and enterprise. The verb means "to fail to appreciate the value or something" or "to hold contempt for". So, as you can see, the meaning of the noun has drifted a bit away from that of the verb. Be careful of the pronunciation and don't forget the I before ON at the end.

In Play: Misprision is a mistake of evaluation, of underestimating the importance of something: "His misprision of the boss's seriousness cost him a promotion." Carrying the same sentiment forward, this word can also refer to failure to carry out one's duties, whether in the misprision of reporting a crime or in a public office: "His one foray into politics led to his being recalled for misprision of the office of dog-catcher."

Word History: This good word comes from a variant of Old French mesprison, from mespris, the past participle of mesprendre "to make a mistake". This verb is made up of the prefix mes- "wrongly" + prendre "to take, seize", the descendant of Latin prehendere. Since this is what prisons do, we are not surprised that the past participle of French prendre, pris, also underlies the word prison. The -hendere in the original prehendere goes back to the older root ghed- or ghend- "grab, take" which appeared with and without an [n]—we call it the "Fickle N". Without the [n], it went on to become English get via Old Germanic getis. In Old Swedish getis became gissa "guess" and, I guess, English borrowed that version, too, as guess.

Dr. Goodword,

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