• puny •
pyu-nee • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Small, skinny, weak, as 'puny build' or 'puny excuse'. 2. Sickly, ill, as 'to feel puny'.
Notes: This word is much more popular in the southern US than in the north; certainly the second meaning is. It is a healthy word, reason enough to encourage its migration. The adverb and noun are the expectable punily and puniness. If you want to, you may use the one-word comparative and superlative: punier and puniest.
In Play: The fundamental meaning of this word is "physically weak": "Willy Knilly was a puny kid whose mother fed him spinach every day to make him stronger." (Now Willy is a world-class weight-lifter.) Anything that can simply be weak can be puny: "Elmer's excuses for coming to work late became punier and punier as the months wore on."
Word History: Today's Good Word originated as Middle French puisné "born later, younger, youngest", containing puis "then, later, afterwards" + né "born". Puis is what French did to Latin post "after". Post was a reduction of pos-ti "after, behind", which emerged in Russian as pozdno "late". Pos is a variant of PIE apo "(away) from, off (from)", which passed through Greek unscathed as apo "(away) from", and almost unscathed in Sanskrit apa "off (from)". Without the final vowel it came to Latin as ab "away from", English of, and, without the initial vowel, to Russian as po "according to". English sometimes uses French né to indicate the maiden name of women, e.g. 'Susan Badenoff, né Goodenough'. It is all that was left of Latin natus "born", past participle of nasci "be born", when French finished with it. Natus underlies such English borrowings from Latin as native, nation, and nature.