Sunday, February 22, 2009


Somewhere in your house, probably on a mantel or in a cabinet, you have an engraved cup, plaque, or statuette won by your child in a sporting contest, a spelling bee, or some other endeavor. Or you may have a trophy wife or husband. At any rate, the word is familiar and in constant popular use.

The word trophy comes, ultimately, from a Greek word meaning a turning, but it’s not a benign and graceful turning, as in a pirouette. It’s a turning as in a battlefield rout, a pivot on your heels with a scream stuck in your throat and a heart about to burst as you desperately run for your life.

When the enemy had fled the field, victors would strip weapons and gear from the dead and pile them in a central location. If a tree or pillar were handy, that would be the collection point. Otherwise a framework would be constructed, and knives, swords, greaves, shields and all manner of enemy spoils would be attached for triumphant display. This was the trophy.

Normally, the trophy was dedicated to a divinity in gratitude for victory. Thanks to superstition, it was considered a sin against the gods to deface a trophy or tear it down. It stood as a bitter tribute to defeat until the elements had their way.

Now we’ve downsized the whole affair to little statues that even a child can lift in triumph.

SIDEBAR: trophies

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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