• woebegone •
wo-bê-gawn • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Sad, sorrowful, woeful. 2. Run down, in woeful condition.
Notes: There is little to say linguistically about today's word. It is not widely used any more, which allowed Garrison Keillor of Prairie Home Companion to use it as the name of his fictional hometown, Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, for 42 years. Keillor seems to have doctored it a bit so that it sounds more like a word from a North American Indian language, where most of the North American lake and river names come from.
In Play: Sometimes we need to use sad or sorrowful with our tongue somewhere in our cheek. Today's Good Word is a good substitute in those instances, "When someone took Natalie's parking space, she came in with such a woebegone expression on her face, you would have thought she had lost her best friend." Her car is such a woebegone old dinosaur, we are all surprised that she still drives it.
Word History: Today's word is an interesting example of a phrase reduced to a single word. In the 13th century people said things like, Me has/is woe bigon "Woe has beset me." As bego (bewent, begone) was slowly replaced by beset, the me was replaced by I, keeping the sense of "I am beset by woe". By the 14th century the phrase had become an idiom, I am woe begone, and, finally, in the course of the 15th century, the phrase became the lovely single word that we enjoy playing with today.