Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Word of the Day

Virago (noun)

Pronunciation:  [vê-'rah-go]

Definition: 1. A woman of great stature, strength, and courage; 2. A loud, overbearing woman; a termagant.

Usage: 2. The plural is "viragoes" and the adjective is "viraginous" [vê-'rah-jê-nês]. Here is yet another example of a positive epithet for a woman gone sour (compare also "effeminate," "madame," "mistress") while those for men slide semantically in the opposite direction (compare "manly," "virtuous," "master"). Who said English is sexist?

Suggested Usage: Since the negative senses of words generally tend to overpower the positive ones, to say that Eleanor Roosevelt was a 20th century political virago, we might judiciously add "in the positive sense of the word." Your best bet is to assume the word pejorative: "So Henry is a bit uxorious (hen-pecked); who wouldn't be, married to a virago like his Trixie."

Etymology: From Latin virago "a mannish female warrior, heroine" based on vir "man" + ago. The same stem appears in "virile," "virtue," and "virtuoso," all borrowed from Latin via French and Italian. The root *wir- underlying the Latin stem appeared in Old English wer "man" retained today in "werewolf." The Old Germanic compound noun *wer-ald- "man-age, the lifetime of a man" reduced itself over the ages to Old English "weorold" and from there into modern "world."

–Dr. Language,

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