• hagiography •
hæ-gi-ah-grê-fi • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A biography of the life of a saint or holy person to be used as a guide for the lives of others. 2. A biographical encomium that idealizes the person described.
Notes: A biographer of a saint is a hagiographer and his work is hagiographical, although some writers have done without the final -al (hagiographic). It is possible to write hagiographically about someone, especially in the second sense of the word.
In Play: Today's Good Word is at base a religious term: "Bonneville leads a pristine life straight out of a hagiography." A few years back, however, The New York Times reviewed what it called an "astonishing hagiography" of the man the official Iraqi press called, at that time, Saddam the Great. It is amazing how spider holes change attitudes.
Word History: Today's Good Word started out as a compound in Greek made up of hagios "holy" + graphia "writing." Hagios we know little about. Graphia is a noun from graphein "to scratch, write", found in many English borrowings such as photograph, monograph, and graphic. This word comes from the Proto-Indo-European root *gerbh- "scratch", which ended up in English as carve but also underlies crab. In Greek it also emerged in gramma "letter, writing" which we also see in English grammar and telegram. (Sharing this intriguing word with all of us approached a saintly act by Uncronopio, a visitor to the Alpha Agora from Hobart, Tasmania.)
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