• potshot •
paht-shaht • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. An easy shot. 2. A random shot at an unknown target. 3. A criticism made without thought or substantiation, aimed at someone who happens to be an easy and obvious target, a cheap shot.
Notes: Today's Good Word is the countable noun from the verb pot-shoot, which also sports an agent noun pot-shooter and a process noun, pot-shooting. The latter serves just as well as an adjective: "The pot-shooting candidates tried to dodge each other's potshots, but both inevitably took a few painful hits." We are dissuaded from using today's noun itself as a verb, as in, "The press badly potshotted him." Your ears should tell you why.
In Play: Criticism at an easy or obvious target is a potshot: "Maud Lynn Dresser has complained that she is tired of our taking potshots at her wardrobe." Of course, the greatest potshot shooting range is US politics: "Siddie Hall is known in local political circles as the 'potshot hotshot' because she never misses a chance to take a cheap shot at her political opponents."
Word History: Today's Good Word comes from the days of the gentleman hunter who hunted by the rules of the sport. Someone who hunted not for the sport but for food, which is to say for the "pot", took potshots. Pot seems to be a descendant of Latin pottus "pot". English apparently borrowed it from French before the French stopped pronouncing the final T, as in pot pourri, literally "rotten pot". We also borrowed this phrase, significantly improving its smell in doing so. Porridge was originally pottage, because it was usually made in and eaten from pots. That's all we need to know about pots. (Today's Good Word came from the large pot of word knowledge in the mind of our favorite stargazer in the Alpha Agora, Larry Brady.)
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