Printable Version
Pronunciation: smait Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: To hit or strike hard, literally or figuratively

Notes: Today let's enjoy a word that is older than I am. Only vestiges of this Good Word remain so, I must admit, it is probably too far gone to save. Part of its problem is that it is an odd fellow, an irregular (strong) verb: smite, smote, smitten. While the personal noun smiter has been used on occasion, we have no noun from this verb referring to the act of smiting. Like hit, it has to even more oddly defer to a blow. So we can hardly be blamed for letting it fall by the wayside.

In Play: This word is encountered mostly in ancient writings like the Bible. The only surviving relative of this word is the past participle, smitten: "William Arami was smitten by Marian Kine the first moment he saw her." But even though its meaning is very close to that of struck, we seldom hear it outside its sense of "struck by infatuation", though other senses are available. "The world has been smitten by a great economic crisis."

Word History: Hooray! A real English word for a change, unborrowed from French, Latin or any other language. It has been in English since English outgrew Anglo-Saxon. The same word that turned up as smite in English became schmeißen "fling, sling" in German and smijten with the same meaning in Dutch. It may well be distantly related to the word that once named the town smiter, smith, and, who knows, maybe even to smithereens. Outside the Germanic languages it tended to mean "smear", as in Greek smema "ungent" and, without the Fickle S, in Latin macula "spot, stain", the root of immaculate. (This word smote me in the eye when Mr. Doe in the Alpha Agora, suggested it; we appropriately thank him for the suggestion.)

Dr. Goodword,

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