• stratagem •
strś-dÍ-jÍm • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A clever scheme or plan to achieve an objective, a cunning ploy.
Notes: Stratagem and strategy come from the same Greek word but are spelled differently in English. The middle vowel in the former is [a], while in the latter, it is [e]. The reason for this difference is that stratagem was taken from the Doric dialect of Greek, spoken in the south, while strategy was taken from the Athenian or northern dialect. The two words have very similar meanings, but a strategy is usually a more complex plan, possibly itself comprising several stratagems for accomplishing individual steps of the overall strategy.
In Play: A stratagem is a 'con' that isn't necessarily harmful: "Pretending to be a poor, shy farmer from the prairie isn't a stratagem likely to attract women in the night clubs of New York." You will find modern stratagems and classic ones: "Llewellyn's stratagem for advancement was to marry the boss's daughter." (So long as he doesn't pretend to be a shy farmer from the prairie.)
Word History: Today's word comes to us via French from Latin strategema, itself borrowed from Greek, from strategein or stratagein "to be a general of an army". This verb was built on strategos (Doric stratagos) "general, commander", built on stratos "army, host, people" + agein "to lead". Stratos comes from the same Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to spread" that gave English strew and straw, something that was once strewn across the floors of homes. English street is also probably a cousin. In Latin, the PIE root emerged as struire "to stack up, build", the root found in English borrowings like construct, instruct, instrument, and obstruct. (Our strategy is to thank Dr. Richard Everson for today's excellent Good Word in hopes he will submit more of the same quality.)
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