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Olympionicest

This year’s is the 23rd Winter Olympics. It’s also meant to be the coldest Olympiad on record (when the snowboarding gets underway on Friday, the competitors will be spiralling through –16º C air). And, what’s more, it gives HH the chance to dust off some of our long-forgotten Olympic vocabulary. 

 

As we posted back in 2016, for instance, the earliest record of the “Olympic Games” in English dates from 1597: 

 

 

An olympionic is a poem wrote to celebrate an Olympic victory. And, as we tweeted just this afternoon, an Olympionicest is a victor at the Olympic Games. 

 

 

 

The Oxford English Dictionary has only one record of the word Olympionicest, in a history of The Annals of the World written by an Irish scholar and former Archbishop of Armagh named James Ussher in 1656.

 

The word itself comes from Olympionices, a Latin term for an Olympic victor, which is itself based on its equivalent Greek word, Olympionicos

 

This original Greek word in turn combines the name of the ancient Olympic Games (so-called as they were held at the sacred site of Olympia in southeast Greece) with the Greek word for “victory”, nike—which later became the name of the chief Ancient Greek goddess of victory (and eventually a famous sportswear company). 

 

But what about that final T? It’s a clumsy addition, but it’s likely Ussher had a noun-forming suffix in mind: in English, –ist is used to form words meaning “advocate of”, “expert”, or “participant in” (like botanist, Methodist, and artist), and it could be Ussher was aiming for something along those lines. (Interestingly, he also coined the word stadionicest, “the winner of a foot race”, based on the Greek stadium.

 

Neither word caught on alas, and they have remained isolated in his writing ever since. Though if any sports commentators are reading this, feel free to revive them over the coming weeks... 

 

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