Printable Version
Pronunciation: ray-lêr-ee Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: No, today's Good Word does not refer to Abraham Lincoln's occupation as a youth (splitting rails for fences); rather, it refers to good-humored teasing or making fun of someone, ragging them or pulling their leg. It can also be used to refer to an instance of good-spirited ragging, as to shrug off a raillery or two.

Notes: When today's word is used to refer to an instance of pulling someone's leg, it has a plural, railleries, but this usage is rare. Generally, raillery refers to a process and cannot be pluralized. It is a noun based on the verb to rail, but be careful: this verb means "to revile, castigate, vituperate". This meaning carries over to railer "someone who reviles, castigates". In fact, raillery itself once meant "reviling, vituperation", but that sense is now considered obsolete.

In Play: Raillery is a prettier word than ragging, but it means essentially the same: "Herb Vinaigrette did not anticipate the extent of the raillery he received when he dyed his hair six different shades of green." You are the recipient of raillery when someone pokes fun at you: "M. T. Head expected high praise and maybe a promotion when he wore chartreuse slacks to the conference, not the nonstop raillery he did in fact receive." (M. T. is more likely to get a promotion for using clever words like today's Good Word.)

Word History: English took this word, too, from French, this time from railler "to tease, joke". This verb was a reduction of Vulgar (street) Latin ragulare "to bray" from Late Latin ragere. This verb has not been found in any documents in Classical Latin, so its origins can be traced only to this point. (Lest our dear readers rail at me, let me take this opportunity to thank Mike Groman for suggesting a much lovelier way of saying 'poke fun at' for today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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