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Word of the Week: ‘supreme’


We take a closer look at the words and phrases that are trending online and in the media. This week: ‘supreme’.

The supreme court has ruled that the decision to prorogue parliament by British prime minister Boris Johnson was unlawful. As the phrase ‘supreme court prorogation’ breaks out on Google Trends – and the world balks at the latest episode in the ongoing Brexit saga – we shed light on the word causing a stir this week.

What is the definition of ‘supreme’?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines the adjective ‘supreme’ as “having the highest rank, level or importance”. A ‘supreme’ person or thing is, put humbly, “very great, or the best”. Perhaps something you might describe an ‘award-winning content team’ as, if you happened to know one… 

Hence, the supreme court is the highest court in the UK and a last resort tribunal. The judges – known as justices – have the final say on the biggest and most pressing matters. Matters like shutting down the parliament and telling a porky to Her Majesty, the Queen.

Etymology of ‘supreme’

The word ‘supreme’ derives from the Latin ‘supremus’ which meant “highest” – and was a superlative for ‘superus’ (“situated above”).

By the 1540s, ‘supreme’ bore the related word ‘supremacy’ and in the 1690s the word began to be used in to describe God as the ‘supreme being’. 

Fast forward 300 years and we come to the birth of American skatewear brand ‘Supreme’, a label so popular it got away with selling bricks emblazoned with its logo on.

Other lesser known, more culinary meanings of the word ‘supreme’ hold relevance too. In its verb form ‘supreme’ is a mode of “dividing a citrus fruit into its segments, removing the skin, pith, membranes and seeds”, which, incidentally, sounds quite like what the supreme court did to Bojo’s reputation earlier this week.

Roisin McCormack