Word: pedestrian

Pronunciation: pə-DES-tree-ən

Part of Speech: noun; adjective

Definition:

  1. (n.) a person traveling on foot
  2. (adj.) lacking inspiration or excitement; dull

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


“Pedestrian” was one of my 7th-grade Language Arts teacher’s favorite vocabulary words. It’s one of those interesting words with two very different meanings: on one hand, you could use it to refer to a person strolling in front of your car at the crosswalk; on the other, you could use it to insult a piece of fiction you just read (or any other piece of art for that matter) that you didn’t find particularly exciting.

He told his therapist that he daydreams about running slow pedestrians over with his car.

It amazes me that such a pedestrian novel series could become a worldwide success.

So why is it that this word can have two different meanings with no apparent connection? I myself used to think that the original definition of the English word was just “a person traveling on foot” and that only recently did it come to mean “dull”, but a little research has taught me that this double meaning goes much farther back than that. Apparently, etymology places the root of the word “pedestrian” in the Latin adjective pedester (feminine pedestris, neuter pedestre), which also means both “on foot” and “commonplace”. Only the root of this word (pedes) means just “one who walks” (except in chess, where it refers to a pawn). Who knew?

As for the reason behind the different definitions in Latin, that’s where my knowledge on the subject ends. If I ever do learn more, though, I’ll be sure to update this entry. My apologies!

Anyway, I’m a fan of this word; it’s just common enough to count as colloquial language (though that may or may not be changing in recent times), yet just long enough to pass as an advanced vocabulary word. Overall, it’s simple and fun to use, which is why I thought it would be a good choice to start off Monday’s “Word of the Week” segments. I hope you’ll enjoy them!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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