Printable Version
Pronunciation: stayts-mên Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A well-spoken, knowledgeable leader in national and international affairs. 2. An intelligent, articulate, leader in any field, as an elder statesman of biology.

Notes: Today's Good Word is a derivation from state "the political organization of a sovereign nation" + the suffix -man [mn]—and not the noun man [mn]. Although the suffix historically developed from the word man, it has since become a suffix. Like suffixes, it is never accented, and its plural is pronounced identical to the singular [mn]. Postman [post-mn] is thus gender neutral while mailman [meyl-mn], oddly enough, is not. Mailman allows mailwoman because it is a compound of mail + (the word) man. Dr. Goodword thus agrees with the Oxford English Dictionary and the Random House Dictionary that postman applies to both sexes and disagrees with those who claim that it is a compound based on the word man that refers exclusively to men.

In Play: "Angela Merkel is a German statesman" is therefore proper and politically correct English so long as "man" is pronounced as unaccented [mn]. We like to use the term to distinguish between genuine leaders in public affairs and those skilled mostly in the electoral process. "Lester is a clever politician, but not much of statesman" would mean that Lester is better at getting himself elected to office than running the office he is elected to.

Word History: The stem of today's Good Word comes to us from Latin status "posture, attitude, condition, standing (in society)" via Old French estat. English just moved the [e] to the end. However, we kept the original, too, adding an [e] to the end of it, resulting in a second word, estate—again, English making the most of its lexical booty. The Latin word, status, is the past participle of stare "to stand", which developed from the same PIE root as English stand. It also came to be words in several other Indo-European languages, such as Russian stoyat' "stand", German stehen "stand", Dutch staan "stand", and Swedish stå "stand", and Czech stan "tent", to mention but a few. The word estar in Portuguese and Spanish came from the Latin word stare "stand", too, but it has come to mean "to be".

Dr. Goodword,

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