You Don't Say John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.

In a word: opsimath

The Baltimore Sun

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your vocabulary. This week's word:


“You live and learn,” I once tweeted, “but not long, and not much.”

The Greek word manthanein, “to learn,” yields the English –math, which, with poly-, “much,” we see in polymath, “a person of encyclopedic learning.” It also gives us opsimath: from opse, opsi, “late,” plus math to mean “a person who begins to learn late in life.

Opsimath (pronounced AHP-suh-math) is one of those words, like mumpsimus, that more frequently crop up as an explanation of what the obscure word means than actual use in the wild.

Example: From Richard Pollak’s After the Barn: A Brother’s Memoir (2013): “I came upon the word opsimath late in life, which is only fitting, since it means someone who learns late in life. [See?] Most of us are opsimaths, too wary of our inner selves and busy with life to heed Socrates’ admonition that an unexamined life is not worth living.”

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