• upstart •
êp-stahrt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A parvenu, someone who has suddenly risen to prominence. 2. A brash, presumptuous, self-important young person; a whippersnapper.
Notes: Today's Good Word is a true lexical orphan, a word with no derivational relatives. It may be used, as it stands, as a verb: "As from a forest-brake Upstarts a glistering snake" (Wordsworth, Ode. The Morning Of The Day Appointed For A General Thanksgiving, 1816). It may also function as an adjective, as an upstart nuclear power.
In Play: Today's word carries a slight pejorative taint: "That upstart Bea Heine keeps stepping on the toes of senior members of the firm." Senior members of most firms expect an upstart to stand on their shoulders. An upstart may also be simply a brash, presumptuous person: "Tiffany Lampe is such an upstart: she doesn't know the difference between the new money that she has and old money."
Word History: Today's Good Word is obviously the preposition up + the verb start, but start in the sense that went into the making of startle, "to spring forth or leap up suddenly". In fact, upstartle is listed in the Oxford English Dictionary. Originally, order didn't matter: start-up had the same sense. Start came into English with this meaning ("to spring forth or leap up suddenly"); the sense of "to begin" came later. Up comes from Old English uppe. It has cousins everywhere: Danish and Dutch op, German auf "up"—all from PIE root upo "up from below". This is how Greek hypo "under, below" and Latin sub "under" could come from the same source. (Chris Stewart of South Africa is no upstart at alphaDictionary; he has been a contributor of such good Good Words for at least a decade,)