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:
Athena may have spring full-grown and armored from the forehead of Zeus, but the rest of us have to start somewhere and work our way up. Everyone is a beginner at something, and we have many words for beginners: novice, neophyte, newbie, abecedarian, rookie, and today's choice tiro.
Tyro (pronounced TYE-roh) comes into English from the Latin tiro, "young solider," "recruit," "beginner." The earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1611: "Of those punies, those tyrones that are brought vp vnder those threescore, there are no lesse then a thousand and fiue hundred." (Punies is no bad word for beginners, either.) The word has been variously spelled as tiro and tyrone, but tyro appears to have emerged as the standard.
The term is no compliment; citation after citation gives off the faint aroma of scorn or disparagement. But if you are a patient apprentice and keep your mind on the task, you, too, will eventually be able to sneer at the less experienced.
Example: Watch Benjamin Jowett, Master of Balliol College, condescend to Plato: "It is difficult to acquit Plato ... of being a tyro in dialectics, when he overlooks such a distinction."
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John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers' work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun's night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.