• sheriff •
she-rif • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. (US) The chief law-enforcement officer in a county or parish, popularly elected, except in Rhode Island. 2. (England & Wales) The chief executive officer of the Crown in a county, having mainly ceremonial duties (adjective: shrieval). 3. (Scotland) A judge in any of the sheriff courts. 4. (Australia) An administrative officer of the Supreme Court, who enforces judgments and the execution of writs, empanels juries, etc.
Notes: In the US, counties have their sheriffs; cities, their chiefs of police. Sheriffs have their deputies; cities their police officers. Sheriff comes with a covey of derived relatives: sheriffhood or sheriffship refers to the office or position of a sheriff, sherrifwick, the jurisdiction of a sheriff, and sheriffdom has both these meanings.
In Play: There isn't much room for metaphoric ambling with this word, so we will keep to the original sense of the word: "When the sheriff was called out to the Eta Beta Pi fraternity last night because of the noise, party-goers peeled the emblem from the door of his car." Again: "The sheriff's department has taken appropriate disciplinary action to see that the officer who punched the mayor on the nose will show more restraint in the future."
Word History: In Middle English sheriff referred to the representative of royal authority in a shire, based on Old English scirgerefa, a compound made up of scir "shire" + gerefa "reeve, official". Now, scir came to English via Old Germanic from Proto-Indo-European sker "(a) cut, a share", which split up into many different words after arriving in English. It provided English with its words share, shear, and score, in the sense of a notch originally used to keep score. It can also be seen in short, originally meaning "cut off", skirt and shirt, all from Old Germanic skurtaz. (Today's Good Word was recommended by Mary Ann Talbot, to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude.)
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