Source: Oxford Dictionaries
“It is pronounced i-GREE-jəs.”
– Captain Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)
“Egregious” may very well be one of my favorite words. I’m not even entirely sure why; I just really like the sound of it. Say it with me: “egregious”. Doesn’t that sound pretty cool? No? OK, maybe it’s just me.
Nowadays, to call something “egregious” is to insult it, as you’re basically referring to it as noticeable in a bad way (e.g. egregious errors). Interestingly enough, though, this word actually used to mean something good, that is, it was used to describe what was outstanding in a positive sense. So how does a word go from being complimentary to being derogatory?
One word: sarcasm.
It’s believed that at some point in the late 16th century, the normally positive word “egregious” started being used in a sarcastic manner. Over time, this negative use must have become the norm, thus giving origin to the more unfavorable definition that we now know today.
It may be worth mentioning, though, that traces of the archaic meaning may still exist today. For instance, I recently asked my dad for his opinion on the word “egregious”, and I was surprised to learn that to him, it had a positive meaning: something along the lines of “honorable”. This is because he had learned from his father that the Italian word egregio (oh yeah, my dad is European, by the way) is used in formal correspondence to mean “dear” or “distinguished”, as in Egregio Signore (Dear Sir). Pretty neat, huh? At least, I think so!
Bonus fun fact: “egregious” has roots in the Latin adjective egregius, which basically means “standing out from the flock” (ex– ‘out’ + grex-/greg– ‘flock’). At least that’s one thing these two polar definitions have in common!
What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?