Printable Version
Pronunciation: poy-nyênt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Keenly, almost painfully moving. 2. To the point, skillfully fitted, as a poignant anecdote to illustrate her point.

Notes: Today's Good Word comes from a normal family that offers an adverb, poignantly, and two nouns, poignance and poignancy, the latter enjoying the greater popularity. Even though this word has been lounging around English since Chaucer (circa 1343-1400), it retains its French pronunciation in that GN is pronounced [ny]. We have retracted the accent to the first syllable, though, where it would be on a natural English word.

In Play: Poignancy is a kind of emotional intensity that fits wherever emotions come into play: "Rachael's memories of her mother were particularly poignant because they had been so close in life." Pleas for mercy are often poignant: "Convicted of murdering his parents, Aiken Hart made a poignant plea to the court for mercy on the grounds that he was an orphan."

Word History: Today's Good Word is the present participle of the French verb poindre "to break, burgeon", which, in Old French, meant "to stick, prick". English originally used it in the figurative sense "sharp, pungent to the taste or smell". The noun from this verb, point, which English also pilfered, retained the original meaning. Poindre was inherited from Latin pungere "to stick, prick, punch", which gave English its present participle, pungent, plus a few related words like punctual, punctuate, and punch (the verb). The root of pungere came from the same source as Greek pygme "fist", a tool too often used for punching. English borrowed this word, too, as pygmy. (Today we thank Ruth Baldwin for suggesting this rather poignant Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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