Printable Version
Pronunciation: pik-nik Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: No, today's word does not refer to a witches' outdoor party; it is an adjective meaning "stocky, stout, thickset". It belongs to a trio of adjectives describing body types, which includes asthenic "lean, flat-chested, and narrow-shouldered", and athletic "muscular, broad-shouldered".

Notes: A pyknic person may be referred to as a pyknic (not in their presence, of course). This word is used mostly in psychology, where research has tried to map traits of temperament onto these types. These are the terms of Ernst Kretschmer. William Sheldon used the terms endomorphic (fat), ectomorphic (skinny), and mesomorphic (muscular), and associated different temperaments to them.

In Play: This word replaces "stout" or "thickset, if you want to impress your friends or send them running for the nearest dictionary: "Tad Poole was a rather short, pyknic youth, who grew into a strikingly gallant man." Today's word can also be used as a noun: "Tad was a pyknic; his brother Gene was a tall asthenic. Together they looked like Mutt and Jeff."

Word History: Today's Good Word is a Western European adaptation of Greek pyknos "thick, compact, firm". English borrowed it from French, whose interpretation of it was picnique. Apparently, its ancestor survived only in Greek. One possibility is that it comes from the Proto-Indo-European word puk- "thick-haired", which turned up in German as Fuchs and English as fox. This word today in Russian is pukh "down, fluff" and pushistyi "fuzzy, bushy". Alternatively, it could be related to puge "buttocks, behind", as in callipygian, another dead end (if you'll pardon the pun). (Today's Good Word was recommended by Larry Brady, Stargazer and Grand Panjandrum of the Alpha Agora, and we thank him most heartily for it.)

Dr. Goodword,

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