Printable Version
Pronunciation: tai-rênt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A harsh draconian despot, a cruel, unjust bully in a position of authority.

Notes: All the relatives of this word appear without the final T, which is explained in the Word History. The abstract noun is tyranny; the matching adjectives are tyrannic(al) and tyrannous. The not infrequent assassination of a tyrant is known as tyranicide. The fear of tyrants felt by many Americans today is tyrannophobia. The huge tyrannical lizard of many by-gone millennia (66 million years) was named tyrannosaurus rex "king of the tyrannical lizards".

In Play: There remain a few tyrants around the world today: "Kim Jong-un is a tyrant so barbaric that he had his uncle and half-brother murdered." This word may be applied hyperbolically to lesser figures: "Eva Brick is a veritable tyrant in her house, making all the rules which benefit only her."

Word History: Middle English borrowed this word from Old French, tyrant, an alteration of tyran, the descendant of Latin tyrannus influenced by the present participle ending, -ant. Other Romance languages didn't confuse the ending of the Latin word with the present participle. So, we have Portuguese and Spanish tirano, and Italian tiranno. The French even repaired their word to tyran in Modern French. Latin borrowed the word from Greek tyrannos "absolute ruler, despot". Greek possibly borrowed it from a descendant of Luwian, a member of the Anatolian branch of PIE, which contained a word tarwanis "ruler". Luwian is an ancient PIE language spoken in Asia Minor about the time of the Hittites, between the 15th and 13th centuries BC. (Now let's thank Lew Jury for today's very topical Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

P.S. - Register for the Daily Good Word E-Mail! - You can get our daily Good Word sent directly to you via e-mail in either HTML or Text format. Go to our Registration Page to sign up today!