Printable Version
Pronunciation: suth-say-êr Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: Prophet, fortune-teller, someone who predicts future events.

Notes: A soothsayer, as might be expected, is someone who soothsays; that's right, there is a verb underlying today's Good Noun. That which is soothsaid is a soothsaying, a prediction of the future. The noun soothsaw, not much used since 1530 but derived from soothsay, means (meant) "a truth", not a prediction of the future. This use of saw as a noun for say, is still alive in the phrase "an old saw", meaning an old saying. As we will see in the history, sooth is a synonym of truth, and the TH at the end of either word is pronounced identically.

In Play: Today's is a lighthearted word good for making fun of anyone who tries to predict the future: "The Wall Street soothsayers are pulling their hair out in this volatile market" (which explains why so many are bald). Since knowledge of the future is such a valuable commodity, we find soothsayers everywhere we turn: "I followed all the instructions of the child behavior soothsayers and my kid still turned out rotten."

Word History: Now we will, forsooth, explore the remarkable etymology of today's Good Word. The by now archaic word sooth "true, truth" was in Old English soth, a descendant of Old Germanic *santh-az "true". This word came from Proto-Indo-European sont- "being", the present participle of the root es- "to be". The truth, then, was what is—simple as that. The verb from the noun was then sothian, which meant "confirm the truth (of something)". Over the years this meaning has slipped to "placate by saying 'yes' to everything" and thence to soothe, as we know it today.

Dr. Goodword,

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