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

In a word: epigone

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:


If you admire and emulate someone, you may be called a follower, a disciple, an acolyte. But if you fail to measure up, you may merely be an epigone (pronounced EP-uh-gohn), an inferior imitator.

It’s from Greek, as you likely suspect: epi, “after” + gonos, “child,” “seed” yields epigonos, “afterborn.” The Epigonoi were the sons of the chiefs who fell in the first war against Thebes.

If you were, for example, to dismiss me as an epigone of Mencken, it would be no more than the sad truth.

Example: From “The Countryside as It Should Have Been” by Michael Kimmelman, The New York Times, July 28, 1991: “What emerges is an account of Constable's transformation from tepid topographer and epigone of earlier masters to Romantic visionary — from a craftsman of unremarkable studies of the countryside to the creator of grandiose and key Romantic images, like ‘Hadleigh Castle’ and ‘Salisbury Cathedral From the Meadows,’ which in their way are as abstracted and unfettered as the works of Turner, his contemporary.”

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