Printable Version
Pronunciation: mis-praiz Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: 1. To undervalue, underestimate. 2. To scorn, despise.

Notes: The original spelling of today's Good Word was misprise, consistent with surprise, apprise and enterprise, and still found occasionally in British English. However, even the venerable Oxford English Dictionary today lists only misprize. There are two nouns for this word, both of which preserve the old spelling, misprisal and misprision. The latter has also taken on the meaning of "misadministration", as in misprision of political office.

In Play: Most frequently today's word is used as a synonym for underestimate: "Phil Anders apparently misprized the strength of June McBride's right arm when he told her that he had fallen in love with Cally Pygian." I suppose Phil would have otherwise taken appropriate defensive measures. The second sense of this word is still around, though: "June misprizes nothing more than a fickle man."

Word History: Today's Good Word comes from French mespriser (today mépriser "to despise, scorn"), composed of mes- "wrong" + priser "to value". English-speakers have had difficulty deciding how to spell the root of this word, prise, for we borrowed it as both prize and price. As we have seen above, this curse has dogged the spelling of misprize, as well. The French word is a drastic reduction of Latin pretium "reward, prize", a noun derived from the PIE root preti- "back", apparently in the sense of "giving back". The same root emerged in Greek as protei "toward, upon", in Sanskrit as aprata "without recompense" with the prefix a- "not, without". In Russian we find it in protiv "against". (We could never misprize the contribution of Jeremy Busch in suggesting today's Good Word; indeed, we heartily thank him for it.)

Dr. Goodword,

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