Dictionary.com

paragon, knife sharpeningToday’s meaning of paragon as a model of excellence has been around since the Middle French of the 1540s, but before then, this word’s history is a bit more complicated. The old Italian word paragone meant “touchstone to test gold,” as when Dino Campogni wrote “a triall or touch-stone to try gold, or good from bad” around 1324. The Greek word parakonan, on the other hand, means to sharpen or whet one thing against another. Paragon appeared in French by the 1600s with an entirely different meaning—that of a match, comparison, or equal. It is thought (but not certain) that this meaning borrowed the idea of testing something’s value from the Italian, and combined it with the idea of rubbing one thing against another from the Greek. It’s accepted that when Shakespeare’s Hamlet called man “the paragon of animals” in 1601, however, that he meant man is the perfect example of excellence among all animals, not that man is their equal. (Or that man could be used to sharpen the animals, or to test their gold!)

Popular References:
Paragon, DC Comics character since 1984, opponent of the Justice League of America and Superman
The Paragon of Comedy, TV Show, 1983
The Paragon, episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, 1963
Paragon Sports, Paragon Real Estate, etc

Relevant Quotations:
“A triall or touch-stone to try gold, or good from bad.”
—Dino Compagni (1324)

“Come lovely minion, paragon for fair,
Come follow me, sweet goddesse of mine eye.”
—Robert Greene, A Looking Glass for London and England (1594)

“What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how
infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and
admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like
a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet,
to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me—
nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.”
—William Shakespeare, Hamlet Act 2, scene 2, 303–312 (1601)

“The volunteer architects behind the structure even planned to make it a paragon of sustainable living, with passive solar heating and a rooftop hydroponic irrigation system.”
—Emily Badger, “The Building Code Violation Behind Occupy D.C.’s Sunday Standoff,” The Atlantic Cities (2011)

Read our previous post about the word outlier.

14 Comments

  1. Paul Dunn-Morris -  August 4, 2013 - 5:59 pm

    That ‘touch-stone’ is familiar to any geologist. We carry three things with us: a small knife (to test the hardness of a mineral), a ten-power magnifying glass (to check the crystalline structure), and a little piece of tile (to test the ‘streak of the material). That touch-stone was probably a piece of tile. Gold leaves a ‘gold-colored ‘streak’; fool’s gold leaves an entirely different colour.

    Reply
  2. Prithika Saha -  August 2, 2013 - 5:49 am

    This a wonderful site.This is English vocabulary site.I like this site.It’s story is “Paragon” .It is a cinema. It’s show in the TV 1983 ,The Paragon, episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, 1963 and Paragon Sports, Paragon Real Estate, etc. Every body also read more and more.My mother and father said:this is your reading site. You must be read very carefully. I said : okay.

    Reply
  3. dino -  August 2, 2013 - 5:12 am

    It makes sense that Shakespeare used the French meaning of the word Paragoni Hamlet. He himself was French. Jeaque-Pierre(Shakespeare)

    Reply
  4. Victoria -  August 1, 2013 - 8:45 pm

    Steeling, using a honing rod, is one way to, or one step in, the process of knife sharpening.

    Reply
  5. oddislag -  August 1, 2013 - 4:54 pm

    ^ Why hexagon ? Wouldn’t pentagon, heptagon and whatnot just suffice ? *rolls eyes*

    Reply
  6. Ray -  August 1, 2013 - 12:35 pm

    (Heh)

    Reply
  7. Ray -  August 1, 2013 - 12:34 pm

    But if “paramour” means a lover or one-by-love-only, then should not “paragon” mean an agonist or one-by-agony-only…?!?

    Reply
  8. POULOMEE SAHA -  August 1, 2013 - 5:48 am

    This a wonderful site.This is English vocabulary site.I like this site.It’s story is “Paragon” .It is a cinema. It’s show in the TV 1983 ,The Paragon, episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, 1963 and Paragon Sports, Paragon Real Estate, etc. Every body also read more and more.

    Reply
  9. Eric -  July 31, 2013 - 7:36 am

    Any relation to parallel or to hexagon?

    Reply
  10. awesomness -  July 31, 2013 - 7:25 am

    maby jeans

    Reply
  11. Minimonk -  July 31, 2013 - 5:11 am

    Oh! I thought it referred to a Monty Python sketch set in a pet shop!
    But seriously, what a fascinating trail from whetstone to model of excellence. But, of coiurse, most words are interesting, aren’t they?

    Reply
  12. Jasmine -  July 30, 2013 - 11:30 pm

    omg i didnt noe that

    Reply
  13. Daddy Daycare -  July 30, 2013 - 10:53 pm

    Very interesting post on the word Paragon, who would have thought a word would have such a history as this word seems to have. You have taught me a few things that l did not know before reading, thanks for sharing and enlightening myself and l am sure many others

    Kind Regards

    Reply
  14. Bruce -  July 30, 2013 - 9:57 am

    All very interesting but the picture shown is of honing or steeling a knife not sharpening it :-)

    - Bruce

    Reply

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked (required):

Related articles

Back to Top