Lost Word Of The Day (13)

How much has the English language lost as a result in the decline in the familiarity with the classical literature of Ancient Greece and Rome? I began musing on this when I came across the verb gathonise which was used particularly in the 17th and 18th centuries to describe the actions a toady or someone who excels in the art of flattery.

Gnatho was the name of a character in Eunuchus, a play written by or at least attributed to Publius Terentius Afer in the second century BCE. Gnatho was described as a parasitus, someone who would go out of his way to agree with any benefactor, especially if it was worth his while. Terence almost certainly took the character’s name from the Greek word for a jaw, as the character’s modus operandi was to exploit his gift of the gab.

Such characters abound in popular fiction but one of the most recent usages of gnathonise in adjectival format appears in Charles Kingsley’s Westward Ho! (1855) when he writes “that Jack’s is somewhat of a gnathonic and parasitic soul, or stomach, all Bideford apple-women know”.

Time for a revival, methinks.


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