Printable Version
Pronunciation: prê-krês-tee-yên Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Forcibly imposing conformity to an arbitrary or inappropriate standard.

Notes: Many dictionaries still capitalize today's Good Word (Oxford English, American Heritage). We decided not to capitalize it because most people have no idea that the word has a proper eponym (see Word History) and use it as a simple adjective today. This word is most often heard in the crystallized phrase "procrustean bed", meaning an arbitrary mold or pattern something or someone is forced into. This practice is procrusteanism. Forcing someone into an uncomfortable position is to procrusteanize them.

In Play: This word is most often used in referring to people who are forced to behave in ways they dislike: "I left the company because I felt the dress code there was too procrustean." However, this word works equally well with objects forced into positions they do not fit: "What happened to the bike? We had to take procrustean measures to get it to fit into the trunk of the car."

Word History: The eponym of today's word was a twisted highway robber of Greek mythology named Procrustes. He had an iron bed, which he thought all people should fit, but rather than adjusting the bed to the people who came to his house, he adjusted the people by stretching them or shortening them with his axe. (Actually, the bed was adjustable, so Procrustes intentionally maladjusted his bed so as to not fit.) Procrustes was eventually captured by Theseus, who shortened him by a head so that he conformed to the shortest adjustment of the procrustean bed. The name comes from Greek prokroustes "the stretcher" from prokrouein "to hammer out, stretch out", made up of pro- "outward" + krouein "to beat, push."

Dr. Goodword,

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