Sunday, January 27, 2008

Solon in English

I didn't realize until today's Merriam-Webster Word of the Day that the name of the Athenian lawgiver Solon had made it into English as a (lower-case) noun. I find it even more interesting that its current use is for the most part ironic.

solon \SOH-lun\ noun

1 : a wise and skillful lawgiver
*2 : a member of a legislative body

Example sentence:
“The bill will likely look quite different by the time the solons in Congress are through with it,” the pundit remarked.

Did you know?
Solon was a particularly wise lawgiver in ancient Athens who was born in approximately 630 B.C. and lived until about 560 B.C. He was one of the Seven Wise Men of Greece, and he implemented a number of reforms in Athenian law. In English, his name has been used generically since at least 1625 to refer to any wise statesman. Contemporary American journalists, with whom the term is especially popular, have extended the meaning even further to include any member of a lawmaking body, wise or not. In fact, today the word is sometimes used ironically for a legislator who displays a marked lack of wisdom, rather than a profusion of it.

*Indicates the sense illustrated in the example sentence.

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