• paragon •
pær-rê-gahn • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A peerless example of a class or quality, a model of excellence for such a quality, as 'a paragon of virtue' or 'an economic paragon'.
Notes: This word comes with no family worth mentioning: paragonite is a mica-like mineral, paragonize means "to match" or "use as a paragon", and paragonless is used less often than 'without paragon'. This word has been used without the benefit of suffixation as a verb meaning "to match, be equal to", "serve as a model", and "surpass", but this usage has also seldom been heard since the 19th century.
In Play: Today's Good Word is usually associated with positive qualities: "Eileen Wright is a paragon of conservative values." Rather than associate this word with a negative quality, we should say that it is not a paragon of its antonym: "Harry Wormser-Goode is no paragon of good taste."
Word History: Today's word comes from Middle French paragon "pattern of excellence" (Modern French parangon), borrowed from Italian paragone "comparison", but originally "touchstone to test gold". Italian inherited the word from Latin paragonare "to test on a touchstone, compare", which was taken from Greek parakonan "to sharpen, whet", composed of para "alongside" + akone "whetstone". Greek inherited this latter word from the PIE root ak- "sharp, pointed", which also went into the making of acerbic, acme, and (to) egg (on). The verb egg was borrowed from the Norse Vikings on one of their "visits" to England. The PIE root came through the old Germanic language directly to English as edge. (Today we thank Jackie Strauss, a paragon of a contributor of Good Words and the female vocalist for The Tridels.)