Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.
March 10th, 2015
Episode 131 of 797 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 10, 2015 is: panjandrum \pan-JAN-drum\ noun : a powerful personage or pretentious official Examples: Little gets done in this town without the approval of the local panjandrums on the board of selectmen. "Unexpectedly, this private sector panjandrum launched into a paean of praise for the public service ethos." David Walker, The Guardian, January 30, 2015 Did you know? Panjandrum looks like it might be a combination of Latin and Greek roots, but in fact it is a nonsense word coined by British actor and playwright Samuel Foote around 1755. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Foote made up a line of gibberish to "test the memory of his fellow actor Charles Macklin, who had asserted that he could repeat anything after hearing it once." Foote's made-up line was, "And there were present the Picninnies, and the Joblillies, and the Garyulies and the Grand Panjandrum himself, with the little round button at the top." Some 75 years after this, Foote's passage appeared in a book of stories for children by the Anglo-Irish writer Maria Edgeworth. It took another quarter century before English speakers actually incorporated panjandrum into their general vocabulary.