Printable Version
Pronunciation: pê-tah(r)d Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A bomb, especially one used for blowing up doors and gates or blowing holes in city walls. 2. A firecracker that explodes with a loud report.

Notes: It is common to repeat Shakespeare's famous metaphor from Hamlet, '(For tis the sport to haue the enginer) Hoist with his owne petar[d]', in the sense of "to be damaged by one's own schemes". However, our conversations have led us to believe that many are not sure exactly what a petard is. The image is probably funnier than most think. The person in charge of the petards is the petardeer.

In Play: Remember that a petard is an explosive device, so it has many applications outside the Shakespearean clich: "The petards of the local youth were the bane of rural mailboxes." This leaves plenty of room for creative metaphors: "Lillian's comment, that she hadn't had easy access to a horse in ages, was an unexpected petard that left all the mouths in the room gaping."

Word History: Today's Good Word came to us from French ptard "firecracker" in the guise of itself. If you think the true meaning of the idiom mentioned in the Notes is funny, you will love basic idea of the firecracker in French. Ptard is the Old French verb peter "to break wind" (in the smelly sense) plus the suffix -ard often found in pejorative words such as coward, wizard, buzzard, drunkard, laggard. The French word comes from Latin pedere "to break wind", itself related to pediculus "louse", from which English gets its word pedicular "lousy".

Dr. Goodword,

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