I just got my first monthly newsletter from Merriam-Webster, included in which was a list of the most frequently looked-up words of December 2007. The one I didn’t know was …

That image is from the dictionary that comes with OS X. It doesn’t quite capture the feel of the word. Here’s Merriam-Webster:

Main Entry: peck·sniff·ian
Pronunciation: (primarystress)pek|snifemacronschwan
Function: adjective
Usage: often capitalized
Etymology: Seth Pecksniff + English -ian
: marked by unctuous hypocrisy : selfish and corrupt behind a display of seeming benevolence : SANCTIMONIOUS, HOLIER-THAN-THOU <pecksniffian cant> <legislation designed to correct injustice and to translate pecksniffian phrases into living realities — Nation> <a censorship that is … pecksniffian suppression — Springfield (Massachusetts) Union>

Seth Pecksniff, by the way, is one of the characters in Charles Dickens’s Martin Chuzzlewit, someone memorable enough for an eponym, but not, apparently, for his own page at Wikipedia (unlike many other Dickensian characters).

Why was pecksniffian one of the most frequently looked-up words last month? According to the newsletter, it’s because the word “was used by Bill O’Reilly a few times last year, and his use caused the word to spike in the daily list of words that are looked up online.”

You may think I’m highlighting this particular word as a comment on recent rumblings in This Movement of Ours. Maybe I just think it’s a useful word.


3 Responses to pecksniffian

  1. Scott Lahti says:

    A Rothbard fan susceptible to H.L. Mencken – in other words, a Rothbard fan, period – will want to consider acquiring a copy of Mencken’s book ‘A Gang of Pecksniffs: And Other Comments on Newspaper Publishers, Editors and Reporters’ (Arlington House: 1975). I see it at for as low as $1.11, and at Bookfinder and for a few bits more. Enjoy!

  2. bkmarcus says:

    I’ve ordered my copy. Thanks!

  3. Scott Lahti says:

    I get “lcl” now, including graphics, via your RSS feed, in my Google Reader…dunno if you, too, do the feed-reader thing, but I love it:

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