Printable Version
Pronunciation: kwæg-mair Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. Swamp, bog, morass; soft, muddy area. 2. A difficult, almost hopeless situation, filled with many problems.

Notes: Todays word is pretty straightforward: a compound comprising archaic quag plus the more commonplace mire. This noun may be used as a verb, setting the stage for a past participle, quagmired "sunk in a quagmire", which may be used as an adjective.

In Play: Though the figurative sense of today's Good Word is by far the more popular, we still have the literal sense to play with: "The pouring rain had made a quagmire out of the back yard, making gardening impossible." The figurative sense makes sentences like this possible: "The Congress has become a quagmire from which no bill can extract itself."

Word History: As mentioned above, today's Good Word is a compound made up of quag + mire. Mire was lent to English by the Vikings, Old Norse myrr "bog, swamp". Beyond this point the history of this word becomes too caliginous to follow. The history of quag presents a phonological and a semantic problem. Its Middle English spelling, quabmire, suggests it derives from quabbe "bog, marsh" in Old English. The shift of B to G is the first problem. The second problem is that while it is orthographically similar to German Quappe, Swedish dialect kvabba, and Danish kvabbe, all these mean "burbot", a kind of fish. All these words might have been derived from a Proto-Indo-European base with the sense "something slimy, flabby", but we have no evidence of such a word in PIE. (Lest we fall into the quagmire of ignoring gratitude, let's all thank Albert Skiles for recommending today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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