• felon •
fe-lên • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. Someone convicted of a serious crime. 2. An abscess in the soft tissue near a fingernail or toenail, sometimes called whitlow.
Notes: Another word for "a serious crime" is felony, which distinguishes serious crimes from minor infractions of the law, known as misdemeanors. This is the noun accompanying today's Good Word. The adjective, then, is felonious and the adverb, feloniously.
In Play: Four of the past eight governors of Illinois were felons, convicted of felonies while in office or after having left it. However well it applies in politics, felon is a word that finds its uses around the house: "Mom! Dad! Grounded three weeks just for wrecking the car? I'm not a felon!" The adjective is used much more often figuratively than the noun: "Pierce Arrow's jealousy of his neighbor's Maserati borders on the felonious."
Word History: Today's word comes to us directly from Old French felon "evil-doer, scoundrel, the Devil" from Medieval Latin fellon-em "evil-doer". This word seems to go back to Latin fellare "to suck", which had an obscene secondary meaning in classical Latin, well-known to readers of Martial and Catullus. I'm disinclined to go into the details of this use of the word; the reader may use his or her imagination. If this is the actual source of the word, we can trace Latin filius "son" back to the same root originally meaning "a nursing baby", as well as felix "happy". The second meaning of today's word would fit in here, too, since the most natural thing to do with an infectious finger, as all kids know, is to suck it. (Forgetting to thank Annie Avery of Asheville, NC, for recommending today's Good Word wouldn't be a felony, but it would be a very serious oversight.)
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