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A.Word.A.Day--agonistes

Pronunciation Sound Clip RealAudio

These adjectives are called postpositive, but that's not because they're positive words. Rather, the designation "positive" alludes to their position -- they're placed (or deposited) after the word they modify, for example, the adjective extraordinaire in "teacher extraordinaire". We often find these adjectives in phrases, such as "attorney general" or "court martial". Product names often have adjectives placed postpositively, e.g. Miller Lite or iPod nano.

In many languages (Spanish, French, etc.) adjectives are placed after the noun as a general rule. In English there are certain situations where we use adjectives postpositively. When modifying a pronoun, an adjective is usually postpositive, as in "those responsible" or "all present".

This week there will be adjectives aplenty here. Let's look a few of the adjectives that say to the noun: "After you!"

agonistes (ag-uh-NIS-teez) adjective

Engaged in a struggle.

[From Greek agonistes, from agon (contest). Ultimately from the Indo-European root ag- (to drive, draw, or move), that is also the source of agony, agent, agitate, actor, axiom, and assay.]

The term alludes to John Milton's 1671 tragedy "Samson Agonistes". It depicts the final phase of Samson's life in which he is blinded and a captive of the Philistines. A famous line from this work is: "Eyeless in Gaza, at the mill with slaves."

-Anu Garg (garg wordsmith.org)

"This Matisse Agonistes -- wrestling with headaches, insomnia, anxiety, a lack of confidence and a coy muse -- is at the heart of 'Matisse the Master' [by Hilary Spurling]." Eric Gibson; Hostage to His Art; The Wall Street Journal (New York); Sep 2, 2005.

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