Podcast subdolous

Printable Version
Pronunciation: sêb-dê-lês Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Sly, crafty, devious, surreptitiously deceptive.

Notes: Today's Good Word sleeps with others of its ilk beginning with sub- "under, beneath" and referring to suspicious behavior; I have in mind now words like: subterfuge, suspicious and sub rosa. The adverb for today's adjective is subdolously and the noun subdolousness is preferable to subdolosity.

In Play: Today's Good Word can refer to underhanded activities: "Prohibition failed due to the subdolous supply of alcohol the underworld imported and distributed almost at will." However, it is equally at home with innocence: "No one noticed that Winfred's hand had subdolously sought and found Emmanuel's beneath the table."

Word History: Today's Good Word was borrowed from Latin subdolus "sly, deceitful". The Latin preposition sub "under, below" was very similar to super "over, above", differing mostly in the -er suffix. In Greek, however, these two prepositions came out as hyper and hypo with an expectable replacement of [s] by [h]. We see these two words in English words like hypersensitive "oversensitive" and hypodermic, the needle that goes under the skin. Both the "over" and "under" word seem to have begun with [s], yet in the Germanic languages we find offspring like German ber "over" and English over for super. Latin borrowed dolus from Greek dolos "trick, decoy". Greek must have inherited this word from Proto-Indo-European, because there are hints of it in the histories of other language, but nothing so substantial as could be reported. (The suggester of today's Good Word, however, is no mystery but the subdolous Mark Bailey, a Senior Lexiterian in the Alpha Agora.)

Dr. Goodword,

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