Printable Version
Pronunciation: -si-fUt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, intransitive

Meaning: 1. To do something lightly, slowly, softly, and quietly. 2. To act reluctantly, hesitantly, overcautiously, warily, far from aggressively enough.

Notes: Here is a word once heard and read far more often than today, probably because of the semantic stumbling of the initial constituent. However, pussyfoot remains an authentically English word, with a personal noun, pussyfooter, and a present participle, pussyfooting, that serves as both an adjective and action noun.

In Play: The basic sense of this word is probably heard and written less often than the extended one: "Gisselle slept quietly in her bed on the second floor, while the burglar was pussyfooting around downstairs." The figurative meaning developed into a second definition, which finds its way into many more conversations and written pieces today: "Congress has been pussyfooting around the gun safety issue for decades."

Word History: Today's Good Word is a compound verb consisting of two nouns, pussy + foot. The first constituent is a diminutive of puss, a common cat name or cat call: 'puss-puss'. It has cousins all around the PIE languages, Danish and Norwegian pus, Dutch poes and Lithuanian puižė, Irish puisín, the latter two calls for cats. The meaning of the diminutive has taken a slide for the worse, though the original meaning survives in baby-talk as pussy-cat and somewhat lately in England, if Mrs. Slocombe's repeated reference to her cat as 'my pussy' in the TV series "Are you Being Served?" of the 70s-80s is any indication. Foot has been covered many times in this series before. It comes from PIE ped-/pod- "foot", which turns up in English foot, German Fuss, and Dutch voet. The Russian preposition pod "under" and Serbian pod "floor" belong here, too.

Dr. Goodword,

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