Printable Version
Pronunciation: swayn Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A country lad, a young farmer, a young rustic. 2. A young male sweetheart, suitor or lover.

Notes: Here is a lovely word about to fall out of use and in need of rescue. It comes with an adjective, swainish, meaning "like a swain", which provides for a noun, swainishness, meaning "boorishness". Be sure not to omit the A when writing this word; otherwise, you will conjure up a radically different image.

In Play: A boyfriend who is so lovestruck as to behave like a farmer is where the second sense of today's Good Word comes from: "June McBride is marrying some simple swain from New York who is goo-goo eyed over her." Today's contributor sent in a lovely bit of irony from his readings: "[Tony] Martin rarely appeared out of black tie. Young swains of the 1950s preparing for their first prom could avail themselves of a popular tuxedo model called the Tony Martin." Frank J. Prial, "Tony Martin, Debonair Pop Troubadour, Dies at 98", New York Times, July 31, 2012.

Word History: Today's Good Word was borrowed from the language of the Vikings, Old Norse, to wit, sveinn "herdsman". Old Norse came by this word from Old Germanic and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European s(w)e-n "own". This apparently comes from sense of "one's own (man)", since shepherds and cowherds spend the days by themselves. The unsuffixed form of the PIE word, s(w)e-, also came to be in Russian svoj "one's own" and Latin sui "of oneself" as found in suicide "killing oneself", which combines sui + a reduced form of caedere "to strike, kill". Sanskrit swami "owner, master", apparently came by its meaning via "one's own master". (George Kovac is no swain, but he is his own master, who recommends fascinating Good Words like today's.)

Dr. Goodword,

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