word of the day: petard

merriam-webster’s word of the day is “petard”

I actually knew about this word before, as petards are my favorite siege unit in Age of Empires III.  They are foot soldiers that throw grenades, and generally reap havoc on anything I command them to.  However, I didn’t know that it also had this meaning

“Aside from historical references to siege warfare, and occasional contemporary references to fireworks, “petard” is almost always encountered in variations of the phrase “hoist with one’s own petard,” meaning “victimized or hurt by one’s own scheme.” The phrase comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “For ’tis the sport to have the enginer / Hoist with his own petar.” “Hoist” in this case is the past participle of the verb “hoise,” meaning “to lift or raise,” and “petar(d)” refers to an explosive device used in siege warfare. Hamlet uses the example of the engineer (the person who sets the explosive device) being blown into the air by his own device as a metaphor for those who schemed against Hamlet being undone by their own schemes. The phrase has endured, even if its literal meaning has largely been forgotten.

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~ by numberxxvii on March 10, 2010.

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