Printable Version
Pronunciation: pæn-tê-maim Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, adjective, verb

Meaning: 1. A dramatic performance in which silent performers express themselves via gestures only, or the performers in such a presentation. 2. (British) A play for children based on fairy tales involving music, jokes, and slapstick usually performed at Christmastime. 3. Absurdly exaggerated behavior of any sort.

Notes: Today's Good Word comes with a full panoply of derivations. The adjective is pantomimical, the adverb, pantomimically, the abstract noun is pantomimicry, and the personal noun is pantomimist. Even astute writers can be unaware of these and use pantomime itself as an adjective.

In Play: Here is a sentence using pantomime as a noun and verb: "All pantomimes must be able to pantomime a person trapped in a glass box." Some use it as an adjective, too: "The office meetings were purely pantomime (pantomimical) for the benefit of those of us who were shut out of the real decision-making." The third meaning of today's word may emerge in utterances like this: "Professional wrestling has always been nothing more than theatrical pantomime."

Word History: Today's Good Word was borrowed from the French version of Latin pantomimus "mime", borrowed from Greek pantomimos "actor", i.e. "imitator of all" from pan "all" + mimos "imitator, actor, mimic". Pan is the neuter of pas "all", a derivative of PIE pant- "all". It has become a common prefix in English, as in pan-American, pan-European, and pan-Islamic. Greek mimos went into the making of mimeisthai "to imitate, portray" and several English borrowings, mime and mimicry among them. Although most etymological dictionaries list its origin as "unknown", it must be somehow related to PIE aim- "to copy". This word went into the making of the Latin words behind English imitate, image, and imagine. (George Kovac noticed this word used as an adjective in an article in The Economist and thought it might interest us.)

Dr. Goodword,

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