Word of The Day for Sunday, November 7, 2010


La•pu•tan (luh-PYOO-tuhn)  adj

1. an inhabitant of a flying island in Swift's Gulliver's Travels characterized by a neglect of useful occupations and a devotion to visionary projects
2. absurdly impractical or visionary, especially to the neglect of more useful activity

Synonyms: visionary, windy, airy, impractical, utopian

Sentence Examples:
• His friends wished that so ingenious and agreeable a fellow might have more prosperity than they ventured to hope for him, their chief regret on his account being that he did not concentrate his talent and leave off forming opinions on at least half-a-dozen of the subjects over which he scattered his attention, especially now that he had married a "nice little woman" (the generic name for acquaintances' wives when they are not markedly disagreeable). He could not, they observed, want all his various knowledge and Laputan ideas for his periodical writing which brought him most of his bread, and he would do well to use his talents in getting a speciality that would fit him for a post. -Impressions of Theophrastus Such, George Eliot, 1879

• It is a guess, even a wild Laputan conjecture But we are here concerned with Laputan themes and speculations; like Mr. Darwin, we are making " fools' experiments." -Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Society for Psychical Research, 1901

•He is, however, just as wide of the mark as the Laputan architect, who contrived a new method for building houses by beginning at the roof and continuing the walls down to the ground. -Centennial Magazine, 1890

The Storyline
But trying to argue the point was about as Laputan an effort as her childhood attempt to teach her goldfish to read lips, so Anna remained silent.

1726, After the flying island of Laputa in Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, where absurd projects are pursued and useful pursuits neglected.

Sources: Merriam-Webster, Free Dictionary

Why This Word:
That Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels became an argosy of toponyms and eponyms is a testament to how well Swift captured the variety of human archetypes. In addition to Laputan, there's Brobdingnagian, yahoo and Lilliputian. Of these, only yahoo has become a word in its own right sufficiently that we no longer need to capitalize it. When we call some a yahoo it isn't through reference to the group of people in Gulliver's Travels. When we refer to someone or something as Lilliputian or Brobdingnagian, it is.

As "la puta" means "the whore", some Spanish editions of "Gulliver's Travels" use "Lapuntu" and "Lupata" as euphemisms. It is likely, given Swift's way of satire, that he was aware of the Spanish meaning (Gulliver himself claimed Spanish among the many languages in which he was fluent).

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