Printable Version
Pronunciation: peyn-stayk-ing Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, adjective

Meaning: 1. (Noun) Exceedingly careful and thorough attempt to do something. 2. (Adjective) Meticulous, done very carefully and thoroughly with attention to detail.

Notes: Today we have a 'garden path' pronunciation. Rather than pain + staking, it was originally made up of pains + taking. Coincidentally, both analyses work grammatically, just not semantically. This unusual compound comes with an adverb, painstakingly, and a noun, painstakingness.

In Play: This word is used far more often as an adjective: "After a painstaking investigation, the culprit who put the frog in the water-cooler was identified." However, the adverb is not far behind: "Farley's criticism of the bill before Congress was so painstakingly spiced with the word "'God" that as we left, we had the feeling that we were leaving consecrated ground ."

Word History: Have you ever wondered how you stake a pain every time you used today's Good Word? It is a lexicalization of the phrase 'to take pains', which may be phonologically misanalyzed as pain-staking. Pain started out in English as peine "punishment", borrowed from French peine "difficulty, suffering, punishment". French inherited the word from Latin poena "punishment", which Latin borrowed from Greek poine "retribution, penalty". Poena was also the source of Latin poenalis "penal", which it passed down to Old French as peinal, which English borrowed, minus only the I for its penal. Old English had two words for "take", niman, cousin of German nehmen and Dutch nemen, and tacan, borrowed from Old Norse (Viking) taka "to take, grasp". Slowly the latter replaced the former, leaving only a trace of it in nimble. (Let's take painstaking care not to forget to thank newcomer Dave Kayne for spotting the hitch in the pronunciation of today's Good Word and bringing it to our attention.)

Dr. Goodword,

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