The Language Attic

Webster'sMy sweetheart’s daughter keeps a list of unfamiliar words from her reading. Since she has wide-ranging tastes and often reads old books, her word list is full of unusual and sometimes archaic words.

When she comes over to visit – often accompanied by dinner-makings, since she’s also a very good cook – she makes a beeline for our dictionary, a Merriam-Webster unabridged published in 1950. At better than 3,000 pages of words in a tiny font, it’s a wealth of information on out-of-fashion words.

The dictionary sits in the middle of our living room, because you never know when you might want to look up a word.

Her recent list included the word thrasonical. After we looked it up, I decided that a very up-to-date dictionary would say “See Donald J. Trump.”

But of course that man was an actual toddler (as opposed to the 70-year-old one he is now) when our dictionary was published. He may have been thrasonical even then, but only a few people would have been aware of it.

According to Webster’s thrasonical means “bragging, boastful.” The dictionary also says it is “characteristic of Thraso,” who an earlier entry explains was a “braggart soldier in Terence’s Eunuch.”

Of course, we also use Google and other search engines in our house. A quick search online found that vainglorious is another synonym.

Having studied a bit of classics in college oh these many years ago – alas, only in translation – I am aware that Terence “borrowed” work by Greek playwrights when he wrote. His Eunuch was based on Menander’s Eunouchos, of which only fragments remain.

As with the Roman gods – who are Greek gods renamed – many Roman plays turn out to be based on Greek ones. Rome built a massive empire, but it got a lot of its culture from the places it conquered.

At any rate, any discussion of a word that comes from a Roman play always motivates me to check into Greek origins.

According to, the character Thraso gets his name from a stock character of a boastful soldier. The Greek name for that character was Thrason. And that dictionary includes a couple of other interesting definitions: “arrogant” and “insolent.”

A little more googling turns up a Wikipedia entry that asserts Thrasos was a Greek deity who stood for the “personified concept of boldness,” and while apparently it was intended to be a value-neutral concept, Thrasos was only personified as a malicious being.

Wikipedia also says there was an Indo-Greek king named Thraso, who ruled in the Punjab region of India in about 130 B.C.E. He took the title “Great King,” which had heretofore only been used by someone who was a great king. That certainly implies vainglorious. Apparently he was a child put on the throne by a general seeking power and didn’t last long.

These things all seem related.

At any rate, thrasonical is clearly – if somewhat unfortunately – a useful word for these times. I look forward to seeing on the editorial page.



The Language Attic — 6 Comments

  1. If there were pompous, blustering, gasbag, lying, conniving, and traitorous connotations I would totally adopt that as an adjective for Trump.

  2. I keep a list of ‘strange’ words, too. I have a character who believes a short word should never be used if a long one is available. 🙂