Printable Version
Pronunciation: pli-ni-pê-ten-chi-er-ri Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Invested with full authority, absolute power to negotiate in place of or represent a higher power.

Notes: This is a word most often associated with ambassadors, though negotiators of various sorts involved in international negotiations sometimes have it. It is usually a post modifier, as in 'ambassador plenipotentiary'. It is an extension of plenipotent and its noun plenipotency, less often used than today's word. It may be used as a noun referring to someone with full authority.

In Play: Plenipotentiary is more comfortable at the highest governmental levels: "The ministers plenipotentiary and envoys extraordinary arrived in Terai hats and old clothes in an attempt to tamp down the tension of the negotiations." However, it may creep into humorous figurative uses like this: "Helen Highwater was Housekeeper Plenipotentiary to His Crotchety Majesty, her husband."

Word History: Today's Good Word was taken from French plénipotentiare, inherited from Latin plenipotentiarius "having complete power". The Latin word is a compound adjective comprising plenus "complete, full" + potent(s) "powerful", the present participle of potere "be powerful", based on potis "powerful, able, strong". Latin plenus is a metathesized version of PIE pel-/pol-"full, fill", which went on to become English full, German voll, Russian polny, Albanian plot "full", and Greek polys "many", whence the English prefix poly- "many". Latin potis derives from PIE poti- "powerful (one); lord", source also of Sanskrit patih "husband, master", Greek potis "husband" and Russian gospod "lord, master". (Now a word of thanks to Susan Maynard, major contributor of words to the series like today's rather fancy Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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