Printable Version
Pronunciation: sê-pee-nê Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, Verb

Meaning: 1. (Noun) A legal writ commanding someone to appear and give information in a legal hearing. 2. (Verb) To serve someone with a subpoena.

Notes: This word presents one spelling problem: the silent O amidst the other letters. Over the history of this word this O has often been omitted, but the spelling above is now a settled issue. It comes to us absent any accompanying derivational family.

In Play: Today's word is commonplace within the legal system: "Flo Wright, a reporter for New Monia Chronicle, was subpoenaed to reveal his source of the story about the judge's illegal activities." However, the metaphoric uses of this word have barely been explored: "You couldn't get me to sing 'You are my Sunshine'' by myself with a subpoena."

Word History: Today's Good Word comes from Latin sub poena "under penalty" from the Latin phrase sub "under" + poena "penalty, pain of". Latin apparently borrowed this word from Greek poine "punishment, fine", for the underlying Proto-Indo-European word had a root kwei-n- "pay, compensate" and only the Greek sound system could convert KW to P. This root didn't make it through our Germanic ancestors to English, so English had to borrow a bushel of words from French and Latin. Pain came from Old French peine; penal and penalty were lifted from the same source. Old French, however, interpreted Latin poenire "to punish" as punir, whence English punish and punitive. Finally, English pine, as in 'pine for someone', was borrowed from Vulgar (Street) Latin pena "pain", a reduction of Classical Latin poena. (Lest we punish Joakim Larsson unfairly, let's thank him now for recommending today's unexpectedly Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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