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Today's Word

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Feb 16, 2009
This week's theme
Whose what?

This week's words
fool's gold
sword of Damocles
mug's game
dog's age
God's acre

Fool's gold (iron pyrite)
Photo: USGS

with Anu Garg

My iPod, their condominium, her computer ... In a typical day we talk a lot about possessions: having things. The word possess is from Latin possidere, from potis (having the power) + sedere (to sit). So when you possess something, say a patch of earth, you have the power to sit upon it, literally speaking.

The English language has many terms about who has what. Enjoy this week's words that answer "Whose what?" but it's important to remember that the best things in life are not possessed: they are free. We don't say, my ocean, his stars, or their sun.

fool's gold

(foolz gold)

noun: Something that appears valuable but is worthless.

Shakespeare wrote in The Merchant of Venice, "All that glisters is not gold." Fool's gold is another name for pyrite, also known as iron pyrite or iron sulfide. Its shiny yellow luster has many fooled into believing they have struck gold while holding a mineral of little value.
The name pyrite is from Greek pyrites (of fire), from pyr (fire) because it produces sparks when struck against a hard surface. Some related words are fire, pyre, pyrosis (heartburn), pyromania (an irresistible impulse to set things on fire), and empyreal (relating to the sky or heaven, believed to contain pure light or fire).

"Although the old rust-belt industries of the 20th century had to go, Britain turned its back on industry rather too readily. We were bedazzled by financial services: fool's gold from the City."
Matthew Parris; There's No New Motor to Drive the Economy; The Times (London, UK); Jan 24, 2009.

See more usage examples of fool's gold in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.

I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice. -Abraham Lincoln, 16th U.S. President (1809-1865)

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