Word of the Day

scarlet pimpernel

audio pronunciation
August 04, 2012
: a European pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) naturalized in North America and having scarlet, white, or purplish flowers that close in cloudy weather
: a person who rescues others from mortal danger by smuggling them across a border
The refugees will always be grateful to the scarlet pimpernels who saved their lives by getting them out of the country ahead of the death squads.

"The scarlet pimpernel plant also disguises itself, albeit in a reverse sort of way. It appears to be the most docile and friendly of plants yet it contains toxins and its digestion by grazing animals may cause their death.." — From a column by Joshua Siskin in The Daily News of Los Angeles, June 2, 2012
Get the Word of the Day direct to your inbox — subscribe today!
Did You Know?
In 1903, Hungarian-born playwright and novelist Baroness Emmuska Orczy introduced the world to Sir Percy Blakeney, ostensibly a foppish English aristocrat, but secretly a swashbuckling hero known as "The Scarlet Pimpernel" who rescued aristocrats from certain death in the French Revolution by smuggling them to England. In The Scarlet Pimpernel, Blakeney's character used a drawing of a small, red, star-shaped flower known in England as a "scarlet pimpernel" as a signature of his involvement in an escape. The popularity of Orczy's novel prompted English speakers to start using "scarlet pimpernel" for any daring hero who smuggled those in danger to a safe haven in another country. Today it is also sometimes used more broadly for a person who is daring, mysterious, or evasive.

Test Your Memory: What is the meaning of "luciferin," our Word of the Day from July 19? The answer is ...
More Words of the Day
Visit our archives to see previous selections.
How to use a word that (literally) drives some people nuts.
Test your vocab with our fun, fast game
Ailurophobia, and 9 other unusual fears