Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Hoist by Her Own Petard

I love words; I am a word-nerd. To this day, I always thought hoist by one’s own petard must mean a petard was some kind of edged weapon (knife, dagger, etc) so to know the true meaning is a glorious thing!

From Anu Garg’s A Word a Day to which I have subscribed for around 15 years now. You can subscribe and get a similar daily email here:

with Anu Garg

What comes to your mind if I say the name Dumpty? Perhaps you’re thinking of Humpty and you’d be right. The two go together. Each of this week’s words also prefers specific company, and usually appears in set expressions.

You can also think of them as fossil words. They are mostly obsolete and only appear as part of idioms. We are used to seeing them bundled and never stop to think about what they literally mean. This week we’ll go behind the scenes to identify their origins.

(pe-TAHRD, pi-)

1. A small bomb used to blast down a gate or wall.
2. A loud firecracker.

From French péter (to break wind), from Latin peditum (a breaking wind), from pedere (to break wind). Ultimately from the Indo-European root pezd- (to break wind) which also gave us feisty, fart, and French pet (fart). Earliest documented use: 1566.

A petard was a bell-shaped bomb used to breach a door or a wall. Now that we have advanced to ICBMs, this low-tech word survives in the phrase “to hoist by one’s own petard” meaning “to have one’s scheme backfire”. The idiom was popularized by Shakespeare in his play Hamlet. Hamlet, having turned the tables on those tasked with killing him, says:
For ’tis the sport to have the engineer
Hoist with his own petard

“Her attempt to rub salt in the wound had backfired. She had been well and truly hoist by her own petard.”
Immodesty Blaize; Ambition; Ebury Press; 2010.

“Ned … heard the petard exploding against the doors of the fort.”
Dudley Pope; Corsair; House of Stratus; 1987.

Explore “petard” in the Visual Thesaurus.

Ultimately, the only power to which man should aspire is that which he exercises over himself. -Elie Wiesel, writer, Nobel laureate (b. 1928)

September 30, 2013 - Posted by | Communication, Words

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