Challenging Word of the Week: pecksniffian


(pek SNIF ee un) adjective

This wonderfully expressive word is applicable to any hypocrite endeavoring to impress upon his fellows that he is a person of great benevolence or high moral standards. It comes from a character named Seth Pecksniff, in Martin Chuzzlewit (another great name) by English novelist Charles Dickens (1812-1870), who described Pecksniff as having “…affection beaming in one eye, and calculation shining out of the other.” The American writer and critic H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), in The American Language, called Philadelphia “the most pecksniffian of cities.” He was quite the inventor of words; for example, bibliobibulus, menaing “one who gets drunk on books” (biblio-, as in bibliophile, plus bibulous, addicted to drik): “There are some people who read too much: the bibliobibuli. I know some who are constantly drunk on books, as other men who are drunk on whiskey or religion.” This passage is from his Mencken Chrestomathy.

From the book, “1000 Most Challenging Words” by Norman W. Schur, ©1987 by the Ballantine Reference Library, Random House.

My example: The candidate’s call for impeachment was a blatantly pecksniffian move to energize potential supporters.

I post a weekly “Challenging Words” definition to call more attention to this delightful book and to promote interesting word usage in the blogosphere. I challenge other bloggers to work the current word into a post sometime in the coming week. If you manage to do so, please leave a comment or a link to where I can find it. Previous words in this series can be found under the appropriate Category heading in the right-hand sidebar.

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