Printable Version
Pronunciation: sê-rep-ti-shês Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Stealthy, clandestine, secret, as surreptitious espionage activity. 2. Taking pains to avoid being seen or noticed, as a surreptitious smile or glance.

Notes: Today's is a much better word than any of the near synonyms in the definition because it is long, slithery, and full of hissing?all of which gives it a slightly sinister air that the contenders for its meaning lack. In fact, this may be why the adjective is often associated with deceitfulness?that and the fact that it sounds so much like suspicious. The adverb is surreptitiously and the noun, surreptitiousness, is even better with its an extra round of hissing.

In Play: This good word is not always associated with deceit, though it does always raise suspicions and imply guilt, "Pat Downe's surreptitious glances at the neckline of Claude's wife forced Claude to cut in on them in the middle of the dance." Guilt, of course, is often accompanied by embarrassment: "At the reception for the ambassador, Rhonda casually raised her left hand to her face and, with her right pinky, surreptitiously removed something from her left nostril."

Word History: Surreptitious entered Middle English, more or less willingly, from Latin surrepticius, an adjective from surreptus, the past participle of surripere "to take away secretly". This verb is a combination of sub "(from) under, secretly" + rapere "to seize". The Latin root rap- also underlies our words raptor, rapacious, and rapt. Ravage comes from the same root, smoothed off by hundreds of years rolling off the tongues of French speakers, from whom we borrowed it. (Today's good word was quite openly mentioned by the somewhat secretive Apoclima, one of the interesting characters you meet and may chat with in our Alpha Agora.)

Dr. Goodword,

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