• hero •
hee-ro • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A person known for a extraordinary feat of outstanding courage or intelligence. 2. The principle character in a work of fiction. 3. A submarine sandwich, grinder, hoagie, poor boy (from Greek gyro, pronounced [hee-ro], by folk etymology).
Notes: The US corporate media have fallen into the habit of calling anyone wearing a uniform a "hero". Yesterday we celebrated a genuine hero, whose feats changed the course of US history, Martin Luther King. Jonas Salk, who invented the first polio vaccine, was an intellectual hero. Don't forget the E in the plural (heroes). The adjective is heroic and what heroes do we call heroism.
In Play: Today's word should be reserved for people known for extraordinary accomplishments. Rosa Parks, who was arrested for sitting in the white section of a segregated Montgomery, Alabama bus, was a genuine American hero. Nelson Mandela was another genuine hero. He served 27 years in prison for his anti-apartheid activities. When released he made a heroic plea to the black people of South Africa to forgive the white citizens their atrocities."
Word History: Today's Good Word comes, via French, from Latin heroes, the plural of heros "demi-god", which Latin borrowed from Greek heros "protector". The origin of the Greek word seems to be Proto-Indo-European serw- "protect". It came directly to Latin as servare "to keep, preserve". English borrowed several Latin words based on this verb, including conserve, preserve, deserve, and observe. This PIE root seems to have been weak, for we don't find much evidence of it beyond these two words in Greek and Latin. (Now let's thank Jackie Strauss, a hero among Good Word contributors, for recommending today's word.)