Word of the day: apophthegm


Noun (plural: apophthegms)
Pronunciation: /ˈapəθɪm/

A short, witty, instructive saying; an aphorism or maxim.

Who thought this word was a good idea? For one thing, it literally looks like a sneeze. It’s one letter away from having all the letters of “phlegm” anyway.

It’s a word for a saying or maxim. But how many people have you heard say:

Adam: Oh, you know the old apoffthathegum… if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
Bob: …What was that word you just used?
Adam: Oh, apopothaffathegum? It’s just another word for saying.
Bob: It sounds like some horrendous creature from the Dungeons and Dragons universe.

Why not just say “saying”? Or “maxim”? Or “adage”? Or even “cliché”? Those words might be spelt oddly, but at least when you say them for the first time you don’t sound like a Danish person trying to eat his own face.

Actually, the above example is inaccurate, because the word “apophthegm” shares its pronunciation with the far more simplistically-spelt “apothem” – a word used in geometry to describe the distance between the side and center of a polygon.

So… what’s with all the excess letters? Are the weirdos who conjured up the logic-defying cholmondeley behind this? Did the inventors of this word think that all 26 letters in the alphabet had to be used wherever it might be vaguely possible?

I usually dislike US spelling conventions, but the Americans actually have the right idea omitting the “ph” from this word. At least it alleviates some of the brain ache this word inevitably induces. Not all of it, mind you, but at least some of it.