Printable Version
Pronunciation: kæch-pen-i Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, adjective

Meaning: An item of inferior quality designed to attract customers and encourage quick sales.

Notes: Today's Good Word is rather odd in that it has a figurative sense, but no literal one. I suppose it might be used for a container designed specifically to catch pennies, but I can't imagine what that would look like and catchpenny has never been used in that sense. Catchphrase is just the opposite: a word with a literal sense but no figurative one.

In Play: Catchpenny is basically a noun: "In 1883 Thomas Edison claimed that the storage battery was a catchpenny, a mechanism for swindling the public by investment firms." The noun is far more often used as an adjective: "Rhoda Book's latest catchpenny novel is well suited for the catchpenny world of commercial publishing."

Word History: Today's Good word is, again, obviously a compound comprising catch + penny. Catch was borrowed from Anglo-French cachier "to catch, capture", a reduction of Vulgar (street) Latin captiare "to seize", also the source of Spanish cazar "to capture, hunt", French chasser "to hunt", and Italian cacciare "to hunt", as in chicken cacciatore "hunter's chicken". Captiare was a spoken variant of Classical Latin captare "to take, hold", based on PIE kap- "to grab", source also of Sanskrit kapati "two handfuls", Albanian kap "grasp", Welsh caeth "captive", German haben "to have" and English have.

Penny remains an etymological mystery. We find evidence of it throughout the Germanic languages, like German Pfennig, Dutch penning, Swedish penning, Danish penge. It must have been borrowed outside PIE for there's no evidence of it in any other IE language. (We should be thankful, yet again, to George Kovac of Miami, Florida, for suggesting today's very unusual Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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