Printable Version
Pronunciation: -fik Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Lesbian. 2. (Capitalized) Pertaining to the Greek woman poet, Sappho. 3. Related to verse characteristic of Sappho: 11 syllables, comprising a trochee, a spondee or trochee, a dactyl, a trochee, and a spondee or trochee.

Notes: As gays and lesbians emerge from the twilight zone of society, we may want a more sophisticated term to refer to lesbians than the bruised and battered term, lesbian. Well, here it is. Since its eponym is a Greek woman poet, it may also be used in reference to her and her style of poetry. We have a noun, sapphism, which allowed a much rarer word sapphist to be back-formed.

In Play: Notice that today's Good Word adds a touch of sophistication to the conversation: "The book contains several scenes of sapphic love and even a sapphic wedding." You may drop it in sentences wherever you might have used lesbian in the past: "In other parts of the world women may dance together without any sapphic connotation."

Word History: English, yet again, borrowed this word from French saphique, which inherited it from Latin Sapphicus, which borrowed it from Greek Sapphikos "related to Sappho". Sappho (612-570 B.C.) was a lyric poet on the island of Lesbos. She was presumed to be homosexual, since much of her poetry was written about women. Her home on Lesbos also gave rise to lesbian, and this word, too, became associated with female homosexuality as a result of her residence there. Sappho's association with erotic love between women dates to at least 1825 in English, though this association migrated to lesbian and sapphic later (1870s and 1890s, respectively). (Now let's thank Eric Berntson for sharing this absolutely fascinating Good Word with us today.)

Dr. Goodword,

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