May 9, 2013

Case File #013.05.09: EGREGIOUS

The Latin term egregius, meaning “outstanding” or “extraordinary,” was derived from the earlier Latin phrase ex grege, ex meaning “out of” or “above” and grege meaning “flock or herd.” Thus, egregius literally meant “that which stands out above the herd,” and when English borrowed the term as egregious circa 1535, the English word initially retained the Latin's basic sense of “distinguished” or “noteworthy.” Around 1570, however, an antithetical meaning developed when egregious was used ironically in reference to people or things that were notably bad or flagrantly offensive, and this pejorative sense rapidly supplanted the original and has remained the word's meaning to this day. So when Pistol calls Nym an egregious dog in the second act of Henry V —penned by the venerable Bard of Avon circa 1599—you can be certain that Pistol is accusing Nym of being a notably bad dog indeed.

©2013 Michael R. Gates

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