Printable Version
Pronunciation: pro-em Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. The introductory section of anything, such as a prelude, preface, epigraph, etc. 2. A prose poem.

Notes: Here is the name of the category to which preludes, prefaces, forewords, introductions, preambles, and so forth belong. It is a clipping of prooemium. The second, more recent sense of this word comes from a blend of prose + poem. The adjective for today's word in its first sense is proemial. The adjective for prooemium is prooemiac, a word used as recently as 2002 according to the OED.

In Play: Proem is most often used in reference to things musical, written or rhetorical: "Farley introduced his remarks with the proem, 'Please take the following not injudicious remarks quite seriously.'" However, anything introductory is a proem: "The dinner guests found Benito's loud belching after the appetizer to be just a proem to his gross rudeness throughout the remainder of dinner."

Word History: In its original sense, today's Good Word was borrowed from Old French prohème for Chaucer's Clerk's Tale, written in 1395. Old French simply trimmed the Latin legacy word, prooemium, which Latin had borrowed from Greek pro(h)oimion "prelude" and applied it to anything introductory, but especially music and poetry. Greek created its word from pro "before" + (h)oime "song, chant, saga, tale", which comes from (h)oimos "way, stripe, strain (of a song)". It reached Greek from PIE wei-/woi- "to pursue, reach for", which emerged in Latin as via "way, road", German as jagen "run, hunt", English as way, and Lithuania vyti "chase, hunt". (Let's all now thank long-time Good Word editor Luciano Eduardo de Oliveira for discovering today's almost lost Good Word and sharing it with us.)

Dr. Goodword,

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