Printable Version
Pronunciation: k-lo Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Immature, inexperienced, having not reached adulthood, as 'a callow youth'. 2. Unfledged, without feathers. 3. (Land) Bare, without vegetation.

Notes: Today's word is used mostly to refer to young birds and people. However, callow foxes might learn a valuable lesson practicing their attack tactics on a porcupine or skunk. The adverb for this word is callowly" and the noun, callowness.

In Play: Edith Wharton pretty much summed up her reasons for relocating to Paris in a letter to a friend after her car broke down in Massachusetts. She was forced to overnight in a hotel less fashionable than she was accustomed to: "Such dreariness, such whining callow women, such utter absence of the amenities, such crass food, crass manners, crass landscape!" So, what happened to the Age of Innocence? Callowness, however, can also be associated with things other than birds and people: "I fear this vintage is wasted on such a callow palate as Freddy's."

Word History: In Middle English this word was calwe "bald", from Old English calu "bald". These words are distant cousins of German kahl "bald" and Latin calvus "bald". On the surface, today's word seems self-contradictory. Baldness usually comes with age and experience yet this word has come to roost on young people with hair at its thickest. How come? As the word bald pushed callow aside, callow reoriented itself to the featherless state of unfledged baby birds, a meaning that it retains, by the way. From here the sense of immaturity migrated back to people, leaving an interesting semantic trail—if you have a map. Now you do. (A gracious bow to Dr. Lynn Laboriel, who loves lexical mysteries like the one hidden in today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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