"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?

Piss ants. :smiley:

Dictionary.com says “pissant” means

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

Make of that what you will. I haven’t got access to the OED or anything, though…

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


Hey now! No politics in GQ!

…sorry. Couldn’t resist. :slight_smile:

So … pissant means pissant? Or just ant? Has it just been slang forever?

See An Account of the Μυρμηκολέων or Ant-lion (warning – pdf link).

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.

[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]

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?

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.

I always thought it was a derivative of the word “peasant”, which implies unsophistication and a certain level of idiocy.

Aha! a search for “pissant formic acid” produced what I was seeking:

Thanks all for the bits and pieces you found!