• pillion •
pil-yên • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A seat or cushion behind the rider of a horse, bicycle, or motorcycle; the 'peach perch' or 'flapper-bracket'. 2. A bicycle or motorcycle seat or saddle.
Notes: We would expect that someone who rides pillion on a horse or cycle would be called a pillionist, but pillionaire dominated the 30s and is far more tantalizing. If you want to use today's word as a verb, you won't be the first: "Madeleine loves pillioning with her boyfriend on weekends."
In Play: Pillions are common in countries that rely heavily on bikes and scooters: "Henk's dog, Spot, tired of riding pillion on the Harley, jumped off and ran into a field." Of course, the word pillionaire simply will not allow us to ignore it: "Thelma Lou was pillionaire extraordinaire with an over-the-hill motorcycle gang until she fell off a bike one day and cracked her helmet."
Word History: Today's Good Word comes to us either from Scottish Gaelic pillean, the diminutive of peall "rug", or from Irish Gaelic pillín, the diminutive of pell "rug". Apparently, when horses provided the main source of transportation, rugs served as pillions on them. Both are akin to Latin pellis "animal skin" and English pelt. If you thought Proto-Indo-European [p] became [f] in Germanic languages, you are right. English has an archaic word fell "skin, pelt", identical to Modern German Fell. (H. C. Bowman of the Agora fell upon this furry little word and was kind enough to share it with us.)
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