• nonpareil •
nahn-pê-rel • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Peerless, having no equal, unrivaled, incomparable, matchless 2. (US only) A flat round chocolate candy covered with colored sugar sprinkles.
Notes: This adjective is frequently used as a postmodifier, 'a vocalist nonpareil' as opposed to 'a nonpareil vocalist'. The former sounds better to me, though both are acceptable. Today's word is a loner, a lexical orphan without derivational family.
In Play: Usually, this word comes to mind when we think of someone who is superb at some activity: "Amanda Lynn Player is a superb musician, nonpareil on the instrument she plays." (Guess what Amanda's instrument is.) However, this word works both ways: "Phil Anders is a scoundrel nonpareil, who hasn't changed a bit since he married Marian Kine."
Word History: Today's Good Word was taken directly from Middle French nonpareil "unequalled, peerless". This word is a derivation containing non- "not" + pareil "equal". The latter is all that was left of Vulgar (Street) Latin pariculus, the diminutive of par "equal" after the French put their tongues to it. Latin par is used by English in the game of golf and in the phrase 'on a par with'. Latin inherited par from PIE perê- "to grant, allot reciprocally", from which Latin also derived portio(n)- "portion", which English, as you can see, borrowed and never returned. I think the English adjective fair in the sense of "equitable, legitimate" might also have come from it. Certainly, we see it in the English borrowings from French compare and portion.
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