Paean, paeon, peon

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A paean (pronounced PEE-in, sometimes spelled pean) is a fervent expression of joy or praise, often in song.

A paeon (pronounced PEE-in or PEE-on) is a four-syllable metrical foot in prosody. Anyone who doesn’t analyze poetry will never have use for the word.

A peon (pronounced PEE-on) is an unskilled laborer or menial worker. Today, use of the word is most common in Indian English, where it’s used to describe any worker and presumably doesn’t have negative connotations. In American and British English, peon has an insulting tone. No one, in the U.S. at least, wants to be a peon.

The first two words have origins in the same Greek term; peon comes from the Medieval Latin term for foot soldier.



“Atlas Shrugged” is a book that’s part science fiction, part paean to capitalism. [Los Angeles Times]

Another innovation of that era was the “once seen” notice—that inherently Romantic paean to fleeting beauty and missed chances. [Telegraph]


It has one stress, which falls on the only syllable, if there is only one, or, if there are more, then scanning as above, on the first, and so gives rise to four sorts of feet, a monosyllable and the so-called accentual Trochee, Dactyl, and the First Paeon. [Gerard Manley Hopkins via Project Gutenberg]


According to Parikh, today any salaried person, from peon to manager, is supposed to pay professional tax. [Daily News & Analysis]

These people come to think they are entitled to their positions and that the rest of us are reduced to mere peon status. [letter to Florida Times-Union]

1 thought on “Paean, paeon, peon”

  1. Oddly, this past Sunday, I played as a postlude at a 100th year church anniversary, an organ piece that coulda’ been performed 100 years ago (in 1912) at the dedicatory service.  I’d saved old pages from the old Etude magazine of the Presser Company, and came upon a 1910 piece entitled “Pean Triomphale.”  I had to look up to see if, indeed, “pean” was an alternative for “paean” and found that it was.  Another twist in the old system of making up a  high-sounding title for piece that was essentially a plain old march. 


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