Printable Version
Pronunciation: sah-miz-daht Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A secret, underground publishing network in which one subscriber makes copies of prohibited literature and sends the copies out to friends who make copies and send them to their friends, and so on and so forth. 2. An underground publisher.

Notes: The samizdat circulated prohibited literature in the former Soviet Union. One person would receive a copy of a hand-typed underground journal, retype every single page with four carbon copies and send the four copies to others in the network until the copies became illegible. This word is a perfect example of "semantic expansion", since the meaning has expanded from a specific type of underground publishing to its current meaning: any underground publisher.

In Play: This word still feels most comfortable in discussions of the Soviet underground: "Joseph Brodsky, winner of the 1987 Nobel Prize in literature, started his career with subversive publications in the samizdat." If it survives in the general population of words, it will survive with its second meaning: "Today the samizdat and traditional publishing blend together on the Web."

Word History: Today's Good Word is an abbreviation of samoizdatel'stvo "self-publishing house", made up of samo- "self-" + izdatel'stvo "publishing house". The root that Russian sam "self" came from also produced English same, Sanskrit sam "together" and Greek homos "same", found in words like homogenize "make the same". Izdatel'stvo "publishing house" comes from izdat' "to publish", made up of iz "out" + dat' "give", literally, to give out. The root of this word shares its source with Latin dare "to give", whose past participle datus "given" provided English with datum (plural data) "a given" and (calendar) date, also a kind of given. (Today we thank Helena Russell, who came across this Good Word in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby, former editor-in-chief for Elle magazine.)

Dr. Goodword,

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