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

In a word: panurgic

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:

PANURGIC

As The New York Times dismantles its free-standing copy desk, the executive editor, Dean Baquet, explains:

“We have to streamline that system and move faster in the digital age. If the Supreme Court issues a major ruling at 10 a.m., our readers expect to hear about it within minutes. And they’d like an analysis not too long afterward. And maybe a video on the history of the case that led to the ruling. Or a multimedia analysis of what the ruling says about the court’s leanings so far.

“So we have to change our editing system to accommodate the changes in journalism. And we have to hire more journalists who can do all the tasks I just described. The only way to do that is by streamlining editing and using the savings to change the staff.”

These changes have been a long time coming. With the introduction of the computer into newsrooms, copy editors gradually took on all the functions of assembling news on the page that were previously performed in the composing room. With the introduction of online journalism, copy editors wound up formatting the online articles as well, some editing photos and video.

To survive in such an environment, an editor has to be panurgic (pronounced pan-UR-jik), “able or ready to do anything.” A panurgic editor would be, to use the Elizabethan term, a Johannes factotum, a “Johnny-do-all,” able to pat their head while rubbing their stomach.

Panurgic will suggest to some of you the character Panurge from Gargantua and Pantagruel by Rabelais. The name and the adjective both derive from the Greek pan, “all,” “universal,” and ergos, “worker.” But the OED has its doubts that the adjective, coined in Britain in the nineteenth century, derives from the character.

Example: The OED has a citation of this extremely uncommon word from, mirabile dictu, an American newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 22, 1998: “That’s the situation found by the panurgic Kudy Maddox, a special agent assigned to the FBI’s San Francisco office.”

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