February 15, 2013
downtrodden (adjective)
\DOWN-TRAH-dun\ Hear it!
What does it mean?
: crushed by superior power
How do you use it?
"For years, Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon had hoped that if they kept Harry as downtrodden as possible, they would be able to squash the magic out of him." (J. K. Rowling, _Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban_)
Are you a word wiz?

In the quote above, J. K. Rowling used "downtrodden" to mean suffering oppression, but she wasn't the first to do so. What writer was the first to use "downtrodden" in that way?

William Shakespeare was the first to use "downtrodden" in its figurative sense, meaning "crushed by a superior power." It shows up in his 1595 history play _King John_, in which Philip, the king of France, says, "For this down-trodden equity, we tread / In warlike march these greens before your town . . . " An earlier use of "downtrodden" was a literal one, meaning "beaten down by being stepped on." It appeared in the mid-1500s, but the figurative sense of "downtrodden" has since surpassed the literal sense of the word.
Archive RSS Feed