• pariah •
Pronunciation: pê-rai-yê • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. An untouchable in the Hindu hereditary caste system, someone beneath the lowest of the castes. 2. A social outcast, a tainted person ostracized from normal company and avoided.
Notes: We should find an abstract noun expressing the state of being a pariah, but writers have not been able to agree on one. William Faulkner in Absalom, Absalom! used pariahhood, and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram has recently resorted to the rather clunky pariahism. Pariahship sounds better, but pariahdom has been used most widely in recent publications.
In Play: Pariahdom is usually evoked only by the most heinous of crimes: "Saddam Hussein's crimes against his own people made him a pariah in the civilized world." However, be careful, for even the smallest prank can sometimes lead to this brutally shameful repercussion: "Justin Case has been a pariah in the office since it was discovered that he was the one who put the goldfish in the water cooler."
Word History: Today's good and scary word probably originated as Tamil paraiyar, the plural of paraiyan "drummer, pariah caste", from parai "festival drum". (Tamil is a Dravidian tongue unrelated to Indo-European languages like Hindi and English.) The Tamil word originally referred to a tribe of South Indian sorcerers and ceremonial drummers who became untouchables when they took on unsanitary jobs as laborers and servants. British colonialists brought the word home from India; it first appeared in print in England in 1613. (Today we thank Kyle McDonald, a Lexiterian who is very socially integrated into the Alpha Agora, for suggesting today's word there.)