Printable Version
Pronunciation: o-vêr-ween Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: 1. (Intransitive) To be conceited, egotistical, arrogant. 2. (Transitive) To have too high an opinion of, to overrate, to exaggerate the value or worth of.

Notes: The trick in using today's Good Word is not to confuse the verb underlying it, ween "to think, suppose, consider", with wean "to stop breast-feeding". These two verbs are not related. Ween is now archaic in most dialects of English, leaving us with only overween.

In Play: This word is probably used today most often as a present participle or adjective: "That overweening Sue Persillias thinks herself God's gift to men." However, the basic verb is still available, so let's use it: "Sue certainly overweens if she thinks that she can conquer Phil Anders."

Word History: Though archaic today, ween came from a Common Germanic verb that we find in Old English wénan "think, consider", Dutch wanen "to fancy, think", German wähnen "to suppose (wrongly), imagine". The same root is visible in Old English wyscan "to desire, hope for", now Modern English wish, without the Fickle N we see in its German cousin Wunsch. In Latin it emerged as ven-, most starkly visible in the name of the Roman goddess of love, Venus. The same root is visible in venom, which originally referred to a love potion. The underlying Proto-Indo-European root wen- meant "to desire, strive for", only a short hop from the Latin word for "to hunt", venare. Since deer was the most prized beast hunted in times gone by, it is logical that the French word for "deer meat", venaison, would be based on this verb. English, of course, borrowed this word as venison. (It would be overweening of us to take all the credit for today's Good Word, so we will rightfully share credit with John Evans, who first suggested it.)

Dr. Goodword,

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