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Pronounced /pænˈɡlɒsɪən/Help with pronunciation

A panglossian is optimistic regardless of the circumstances. Or, to put it in the words of the optimistic Dr Pangloss, the philosopher and tutor in Voltaire’s Candide (1759), “All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds”.

We are as profoundly sceptical of this philosophy as Voltaire intended us to be, since Dr Pangloss was old, pedantic and deluded, maintaining his misguided beliefs even after experiencing great suffering. His name is one clue to Voltaire’s view of the old man, since it comes from Greek pan, all, and glossa, tongue or language, so suggesting glibness and talkativeness.

Writers have since made several compounds out of his name, such as Panglossic and Panglossism, but the adjective Panglossian is by far the most common and is frequently found even today:

Most management-speak is, as Schrijvers points out, Panglossian balderdash designed to lull the weak and credulous — the feeble-minded, the nice — into a position of supine docility.”

Daily Telegraph, 13 Jul. 2004.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 6 Nov. 2004

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 6 November 2004.