Word of the Week: Juggernaut

JUGGERNAUT, like shampoo and jodhpur, has its roots in India.

But unlike shampoo (which harks back to the Hindi verb cāṃpo, to press) or jodhpur (named after a Western city in Rajasthan where similar garments are worn by Indian men as part of everyday dress), juggernaut invokes the name of a formidable and all-powerful god, thus its meaning:

juggernaut |ˈdʒəɡərˌnɔt| (n)
a huge, powerful, and overwhelming force or institution: a juggernaut of secular and commercial culture.

Let’s dive into the New York Times for a glimpse of how the word is used. Here are two headlines, one from Ben Stiller’s comedy land, and the other not exactly comedy territory, but almost:

He’s a Model-Slash-Juggernaut Now ~ by Lorne Manly, 7 Feb 2016
With the help of a vast social media network, the fashion world embraces the sequel to the film [Zoolander] that poked fun at this image-driven industry.

What Could Slow the Trump Juggernaut ~ by Alexander Burns, 25 Feb 2016 
His path to the Republican presidential nomination appears wider than ever, but it could contain pitfalls and roadblocks.

Speaking of powerful gods, the word juggernaut actually traces us right back to Lord Krishna. We would need to take two steps in our etymological trail to get there:

First, juggernaut is an extension of Juggernaut.

Next, Juggernaut is an old-fashioned name for Jagannatha.

Jagannatha |ˌdʒəɡəˈnɑθə| Hinduism
the form of Krishna worshiped in Puri, Orissa, where in the annual festival his image is dragged through the streets on a heavy chariot; devotees are said formerly to have thrown themselves under its wheels. Formerly called Juggernaut

Wikipedia defines Jagannatha as “Lord of the Universe.” That should be a great way of remembering the meaning of juggernaut.


I invite you to write to me at  viv@mywritinghome.com if you have any word ideas you’d like to share.

  • Our previous “Word of the Week”: Stemwinder | Next up: Underbelly
  • If you like our “Word of the Week” posts, you might also enjoy our “How to Pronounce It” series.

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