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In a word: suzerain

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 working vocabulary. This week's word:


Under whatever authority is supreme, or sovereign, there are always minor authorities: governors, tetrarchs, princes, administrators, managers, assistant managers, foremen, overseers, straw bosses, bigwigs. And they all like to make their weight felt. 

A suzerain (pronounced SOO-zer-an or SOO-aer-ain) was originally a feudal overlord, not the sovereign, but a secondary authority. In modern statecraft, a suzerain is a state that controls another state but allows it autonomy in its domestic governance. 

It comes from a combination of Latin verbs and prefixes that developed into subvorsum, "turned upward." 

Most of us have little call for dealing in international statecraft, but all of us have felt the weight of petty authority, the suzerains in the workplace. 

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