“Remarkably spritely” is how Jennifer Steinhauer described Senator John McCain in a recent New York Times article. The adjective “spritely,” whatever it might mean, is obsolete. The most recent usage cited by the Oxford English Dictionary was in the eighteenth century. The noun “sprite,” which is still in current usage, is a “disembodied spirit, ghost, elf, or fairy.” Whatever you may think of Senator McCain, you’re unlikely to think of him in those terms.
What Ms. Steinhauer or her orthographically-challenged editor undoubtedly meant to say was that the Arizona Republican was “sprightly,” a word that once meant “ghostlike,” but in modern usage means “vigorous, brisk, lively, full of animation.” Now that sounds more like McCain, doesn’t it?
The noun “spright,” which, like the adjective “spritely,” is now obsolete, was a variant spelling of “sprite,” introduced in the sixteenth century, in an erroneous analogy to Anglo-Saxon words like “light,” “might,” and “right.” “Sprite” derives, not from Anglo-Saxon, but from the French esprit and Latin spiritus (“breath”). “Sprightly,” the adjective formed from “spright,” stayed in the language, while “spright” faded away. It also changed its meaning from “ghostlike” to its present vivacious one.
Unlike Senator McCain, the Bard of Buffalo Bayou can be thought of as a disembodied spirit, ghost, or elf, but probably not a fairy. Showing his non-partisan (some would say apolitical) nature, the Bard submits the following for your degustation or your disgust, whichever comes first:
Can never explain
When he tries, it’s tragi-comic.
Knows how to lead.
If Republicans are for it in the Senate,
He’s agin it.
Is such a complainer--
Even if a Democrat is correct,
Thinks everything’s rosy
And things would be bleaker
If she weren’t the Speaker.