Printable Version
Pronunciation: pawn Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A chess piece of the lowest value. 2. A dispensable individual used to advance the interests of another party. 3. An object given to secure a loan, a pledge.

Notes: Today's word is actually two: one with the original sense of an ordinary foot soldier and the other with the original sense of a security pledge (see Etymology). The noun may be used as a verb in the second sense above, as 'to pawn a valuable watch for cash' or 'to pawn one's good reputation for gold'.

In Play: PawnReferring to people, pawn is a word referring to someone used to advance the ulterior designs of another: "Morris doesn't really love Leanne; she is just a pawn in his attempt to get a promotion from her father." Young human beings are particularly adept at recognizing pawns: "She uses her grandfather as a willing pawn to get all the things her parents don't allow."

Word History: Pawns are rather pedestrian people and well they should be—lexically, that is, for they share the same root, Old French peon comes from Medieval Latin pedon- "foot soldier", based on Latin pes, pedis "foot". The same Old French stem is found in peonier "foot soldier", whence English pioneer. Peon itself has also entered English from Spanish, and now refers to a menial day-laborer. The root of all these words is ped-/pod- "foot", about which we have written before. It emerges in English as foot and fetch, and may be seen in the Latin borrowings pedal and pedestrian, and the Greek borrowing tripod, a three-legged stand. The Russian variant, pod, means "under, below", and the same word emerged in Serbian meaning "floor". The word meaning a security pledge is suspected to have originated in Latin pannus "rag", but the evidence is very sketchy.

Dr. Goodword,

P.S. - Register for the Daily Good Word E-Mail! - You can get our daily Good Word sent directly to you via e-mail in either HTML or Text format. Go to our Registration Page to sign up today!