Printable Version
Pronunciation: wæg Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A merry droll, a mischievously witty joker known for speaking a bit devilishly tongue-in-cheek.

Notes: Today's Good Word is the noun wag and not the doggy verb. It survives, probably because it is a homonym of the more popular verb wag, but is barely clinging onto life. Wag is a genuinely Germanic word, not borrowed from any of the Romance languages English likes to lean on for vocabulary. The waggish behavior of a wag is known as waggery, though waggish opens the door for waggishness, too.

In Play: One of America's most influential wags, Will Rogers, once opined that the USA has the best Congress money can buy. But this word is often used to treat a mischievous jibe anonymously, even when we are the source: "Some wag once claimed that a camel is a horse designed by a committee."

Word History: Since the wagging of a dog's tail indicates happiness and good humor, it is widely supposed that today's good noun is derived from the verb, even though the evidence is pretty thin. The verb wag apparently came from the same original root that went into the making of way and wagon. That root seems to have referred to movement, especially by vehicles like wagons. In fact, the same root emerged in Latin as vehere "to carry", from which vehicle emerged. In English it apparently picked up the sense of moving back and forth, since, in addition to wag, it turns up in wiggle. (We don't know what moved Perry Lassiter to submit today's Good Word, but we are sure that all the wags reading this are grateful.)

Dr. Goodword,

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