Wednesday, April 21, 2010


I’m at the age where a number of friends, relatives, and acquaintances have had strokes. I was talking to a cousin the other day whose wife had suffered a stroke, and he surprised me by asking where the word came from. I'd have thought that he had other things to worry about.

It came from Old Teutonic, and it is tightly related to strike, to stun with a blow. By 1599, it was being used metaphorically to describe an attack that renders one at least partially paralytic. The current term is cerebrovascular accident (CVA).

What I find striking is the number of situations that have adapted it as a useful word:

  • the stroke of midnight
  • a stroke of luck
  • a stroke of genius
  • doesn’t do a stroke of work
  • to come to strokes
  • the strokes of a pickaxe
  • heat stroke
  • a golf or tennis stroke
  • died without landing a stroke
  • with a stroke of a pen
  • a stroke of lightning
  • a few strokes of the oar
  • the breast stroke in swimming
  • piston stroke
  • stroke someone the wrong way
  • didn’t miss a stroke
  • the finishing stroke
  • p/q = p stroke q
  • a gentle stroke of the hand
  • different strokes for different folks
  • put me off my stroke
  • with a single stroke

SIDEBAR: Stroke symptoms

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

Check out Mike's program-based books here:
Arbutus Press
or at

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:00 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to and clicking on Listen Now.

There is a collection of podcasts. Go to and click on Podcasts. Scroll down The Ron Jolly Show to find the Words to the Wise audio button.

Visit the Senior Corner at



Post a Comment

<< Home

Dona Sheehan's prints