• prig •
prig • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A self-righteous puritanical prude, someone excessively concerned with decorum. 2. A conceited snob or, as George Eliot puts it in Middlemarch, ". . .a fellow who is always making you a present of his opinions."
Notes: As a sign of our sympathy for everyone struggling with English spelling, we always add a note of amazement when we find a word like this one, spelled the way it is pronounced. This word comes with a hint of facetiousness that encourages playful derivations. The adjective is simply priggish, but there is a healthy clan of nouns, including prigdom, the domain of all prigs taken together (if you can); prighood, that quality that makes a prig a prig; priggery, the behavior of a prig, and priggism, a more sedate term for the last meaning.
In Play: A priggish woman is usually one who dresses very conservatively, even in an old-fashioned manner: "Lyda Cain is so mysterious I'm not sure if she wears high collars because she is such a prig or to hide some embarrassing tattoo on her neck." Conceited snobs, on the other hand, are apt to dress very smartly: "That prig, Morty Skusting, must think he is the king of the universe, telling the rest of us how we should live our lives!"
Word History: No one knows the origin of this word, just that it has been around a long time. It first appeared meaning "a tinker" in 1567, but by 1610 it meant "a thief". In 1676 it was being used to refer to a fop or dandy and by 1693 it was being used in British slang to refer to a Puritan, but in the sense of a religious nonconformist or iconoclast. When the Puritans came to the US, the word came with them and, as the Puritans became known for their prudishness, that meaning slipped over onto today's Good Word.