Printable Version
Pronunciation: sprai Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: (Usually in reference to the elderly) Active, nimble, smart, energetic, quick, lively, full of health and spirits.

Notes: The comparative and superlative of today's Good Word may be written either as sprier and spriest or spryer and spryest. English speakers can't make up their minds. Since the adverb is spryly and the noun is spryness, I prefer the latter spellings: spryer and spryness. I believe deeply in linguistic consistency.

In Play: Today's word is more comfortable referring to people of significant age: "At 82 years of age Noah Zarque was spry enough to safely dodge the rubber-tipped arrows from his grandson's bow." Even if the noun does not modify a person of advanced age, it should imply one: "Marian McPartland played a spry jazz piano well into her 80s."

Word History: Today's Good Word could be a shortening and alteration of sprightly. If so, it goes back to the word sprite, a dialectal variant of spirit, a word borrowed from Latin spiritus "breath". This word came from spirare "to breathe", which also went into the making of the words behind English inspire, expire, perspire. Latin spiritus comes from PIE (s)peis- "to blow", since ancient Indo-European people confused their winter breaths with spirits. We have another option, however. Today's word might have come from a Scandinavian source such as Old Norse sprækr, dialectal Swedish sprygg "fearful, nervous, fidgety (horse)". This tack would lead to English sparse coming from the same PIE root, (s)preg- "to jerk, scatter", as spry. This would put our word in the same family as Sanskrit parjanya- "rain," Lithuanian sprogti "shoot, bud," and Old Irish arg "a drop". (Many thanks to Mike and Diana Brinsko, who are spry enough to visit the Agora and recommend today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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