Printable Version
Pronunciation: smi-dhêr-eenz Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, plural

Meaning: A host of broken fragments.

Notes: This word is rather an English oddity not given to derivation, but several writers have tried it as a verb, as 'a bomb big enough to smithereen a large building', or 'a turn of events that smithereens your plans for the weekend'. No one seems to have tried a single smithereen yet, so we will continue to call it a plural noun—not to deter you from pushing the envelope.

In Play: This Good Word is used almost exclusively in phrases like 'break, blow, knock to smithereens'. Yet it has much greater metaphorical potential, as D. H. Lawrence demonstrated in Mornings in Mexico 16 (1927): "The sun went bang, with smithereens of birds bursting in all directions." It has a startling, unexpected beauty: "After the funeral, he sat in his living room for days, profoundly forlorn, amidst the smithereens of the life he had shared with her for 52 years."

Word History: This good if mysterious Word has worried etymologists for ages. While a smith's hammer could certainly blast many objects to smithereens, it apparently has nothing to do with today's word. Now evidence indicates that it is a simple borrowing from Irish Gaelic smidirini, the diminutive of smiodar "a small fragment". The base word also exists in English as smithers, as the bicycle came out of the box in smithers, and we had to assemble it ourselves. (Patricia Castellanos of Montevideo, Uruguay, suggested we look into today's Good Word. We're glad she did.)

Dr. Goodword,

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