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Old 05-22-2005, 09:39 PM
toadspittle toadspittle is offline
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"pisant" is a real word?

A friend was visiting this weekend and commented on how she has recently been finding out how many words that she thought were mere slang are actual (i.e., more normal than slang) words. For example, "peon."

But then she brought up the word "pisant/pissant". Is this a non-slang word (i.e., not "piss-ant", "piss" combined with "ant" to denote something terribly small, insignificant, unworthy)? If so, what is the actual definition/origin?
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  #2  
Old 05-22-2005, 09:45 PM
silenus silenus is offline
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Piss ants.
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Old 05-22-2005, 09:46 PM
La Llorona La Llorona is offline
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Dictionary.com says "pissant" means

Quote:
1. One that is insignificant.
2. Obsolete. An ant.
and that it's modeled on the word "pismire." A search for pismire tells us that it means "an ant" and that it's derived from

Quote:
[Middle English pissemyre : pisse, urine (from the smell of the formic acid that ants secrete); see piss + mire, ant (probably of Scandinavian origin; akin to Danish myre).]
Make of that what you will. I haven't got access to the OED or anything, though...
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Old 05-22-2005, 10:12 PM
Biffy the Elephant Shrew Biffy the Elephant Shrew is offline
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Why, look you, I am whipp'd and scourged with rods,
Nettled and stung with pismires, when I hear
Of this vile politician, Bolingbroke.

--Shakespeare, Henry IV
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Old 05-22-2005, 10:46 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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OED
Quote:
c1386 CHAUCER Sompn. T. 118 He is as angry as a pissemyre, Though at he haue al that he kan desire. 1388 WYCLIF Prov. vi. 6 O! thou slowe man, go to the amte [gloss ether pissemyre, v.rr. spissemire, pismire].
Quote:
1661 W. K. Conf. Charact., Meere Polititian (1860) 27 A multitude of pissants and vermins.
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Old 05-22-2005, 11:09 PM
La Llorona La Llorona is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Biffy the Elephant Shrew
this vile politician, Bolingbroke
Hey now! No politics in GQ!

...sorry. Couldn't resist.
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  #7  
Old 05-23-2005, 07:45 AM
toadspittle toadspittle is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by samclem
OED
So ... pissant means pissant? Or just ant? Has it just been slang forever?
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  #8  
Old 05-23-2005, 09:42 AM
ratatoskK ratatoskK is online now
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See An Account of the Μυρμηκολέων or Ant-lion (warning -- pdf link).
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Old 05-23-2005, 10:07 AM
rjk rjk is offline
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Immanuel Kant was a real pissant
Who was very rarely stable
- Monty Python
(Full lyrics here.)

That usage is slang. The insect pissant is certainly a real word, according to the references linked above.
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Bon vivant by day, cheesemonger by night!
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  #10  
Old 05-23-2005, 10:14 AM
FatBaldGuy FatBaldGuy is offline
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[slight hijack]
When Volkswagen first inttroduced the Passat model I hadn't heard of it until I was listening to a commercial on the radio. The way the announcer pronounced the name it sounded to my ears like there was an "n" before the final "t", so I'm envisioning in my mind a new car called the "Volkswagen Pissant" and thinking how stupid to give that name to a car.
[/slight hijack]
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Old 05-23-2005, 10:35 AM
Mycroft Holmes Mycroft Holmes is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by La Llorona
Dictionary.com says ... that it's modeled on the word "pismire." A search for pismire tells us that it means "an ant" and that it's derived from

Quote:
[Middle English pissemyre : pisse, urine (from the smell of the formic acid that ants secrete); see piss + mire, ant (probably of Scandinavian origin; akin to Danish myre).]
Make of that what you will. I haven't got access to the OED or anything, though...
Interesting. The Dutch word for "ant" is "mier", so might the Middle English pissemyre be of Dutch origin, or are both the Dutch and Middle-English of Scandinavian origin? Anyone with an OED at their disposal?
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  #12  
Old 05-23-2005, 10:51 AM
don't ask don't ask is online now
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How does this all relate to puissant which means the dead opposite.
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  #13  
Old 05-23-2005, 11:20 AM
Huerta88 Huerta88 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by don't ask
How does this all relate to puissant which means the dead opposite.
It doesn't, as far as anyone can tell. Here's the full OED monty:

An ant, spec. in phrases drunk as a piss-ant, extremely intoxicated; game as a piss-ant, courageous, very brave. Also transf., fig., and attrib.

1661 W. K. Conf. Charact., Meere Polititian (1860) 27 A multitude of pissants and vermins. 1770 C. CARROLL Let. 22 May in Maryland Hist. Mag. (1917) XII. 362 It seems the Pissants eat a great deal of Corn in the ground. 1847 W. T. PORTER Quarter Race in Kentucky 84 Pourin out of the woods like pissants out of an old log when tother end's afire. 1893 J. SALISBURY Gloss. Words S.E. Worcestershire 28 'Er screws 'er waist up till 'er looks like a piss-aint. 1903 ‘T. COLLINS’ Such is Life v. 184 His mind's so much took-up with the tuppenny-thruppenny things... Can't afford to come-out anything but a pis-ant. 1930 J. DOS PASSOS 42nd Parallel I. 77 I'm drunk as a pissant still. 1935 H. L. DAVIS Honey in Horn xvi. 278 Anybody who called owning horses disorderly conduct was a liar and a pissant. 1945 BAKER Austral. Lang. iv. 87 Game as a piss ant or drunk as a piss ant. 1946 MEZZROW & WOLFE Really Blues (1957) 377 Piss-ant, a nobody, small fry. 1949 H. HORNSBY Lonesome Valley 185 Why, goddam it to Jesus Christ and back, they're thicker than piss ants. 1961 P. WHITE Riders in Chariot xiii. 448 ‘And on such a day!’ she shrieked, looking at the clock. ‘I bet that nephew of yours will be full as a piss-ant by eleven!’ 1962 R. TULLIPAN March into Morning 59 The old white lady makes you as game as a pissant. 1966 Publ. Amer. Dial. Soc. 1964 XLII. 21 Pissant. Regularly used by men among men; elsewhere it is ant only. 1972 F. VAN W. MASON Roads to Liberty 169 You stole my skelp, you no-'count piss-ant. 1973 R. HEINLEIN Time Enough for Love (1974) 523 His grandfather paused just long enough to look back and say, ‘Not on your tintype...you pusillanimous piss~ant.’ 1978 Guardian Weekly 25 June 18/4 That pissant [California Governor] Brown. 1979 ‘A. HAILEY’ Overload III. x. 237 All you do now is let off some pissant fire~crackers, then laze around here for a goddam month's vacation.
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  #14  
Old 05-23-2005, 02:25 PM
Cagey Drifter Cagey Drifter is offline
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I always thought it was a derivative of the word "peasant", which implies unsophistication and a certain level of idiocy.
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  #15  
Old 05-23-2005, 02:35 PM
toadspittle toadspittle is offline
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Aha! a search for "pissant formic acid" produced what I was seeking:

http://www.randomhouse.com/wotd/inde...?date=19990331

Thanks all for the bits and pieces you found!
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