Word of the Month: Doyen

David Zapatka

Friend and fellow table tennis-playing enthusiast, Bill Lewis, exposed me to our word for this month, doyen, in a recent correspondence about long-term expertise in the sport of table tennis. When reading his email and coming across his use of the word “doyen” I had to look this one up.

Doyen noun doy·en  doi-ĕn′, doi′ən, dwä-yăN′)

Simple definition of doyen – a person who has a lot of experience in or knowledge about a particular profession, subject, etc.

Full definition of doyen – 1a: the senior member of a body or group; 1b: a person considered to be knowledgeable or uniquely skilled as a result of long experience in some field of endeavor; 2: the oldest example of a category.

Origin of the word doyen – English picked up “doyen” from French in the 17th century. The French term in turn comes from the Late Latin word decanus, meaning “dean,” which itself comes from the Greek dekanos, meaning “chief of ten.” A “doyen” can be a leader of a group, such as a diplomatic corps. In this regard, the word has been used to refer to someone who is specifically or tacitly allowed to speak for that group. More broadly, a “doyen” refers to a highly skilled and respected veteran of a particular field. The feminine form of “doyen” is “doyenne.”

The noun doyen can be used to describe a person who has been part of a group the longest. An example of this use might be, “Mr. Lewis, the doyen of the table tennis community, spoke about the upcoming state table tennis games being hosted this July in his recent television interview.”

Generally speaking, the doyen isn’t just the person who has been there the longest — the doyen is also an expert, perhaps in a specialized area that the others don’t know as much about. A doyen is distinguished in a way that earns leadership status, as indicated by the word’s origin in the Old French word deien, which comes from the Latin word decanus, or “head of 10 monks in a monastery” or “commander of 10 soldiers.”

Examples of Doyen used in a sentence.

Buffett describes his investment philosophy in folksy, annual letters to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, written in conjunction with Carol Loomis, a doyen of business journalism.

Jones, the layout’s architect, knew that a fine fescue surface from tee box to green would intrigue the U.S.G.A., the doyens of the Open.

Ron MacLean, the doyen of CBC’s hockey coverage, put it simply when he explained why hockey players are so distinctive: “Mentally and physically, they’re quick.”

My suspicion is in our active adult community where successful residents come from so many walks of life, there are many doyens walking among us. What  doyens do you know?

Please submit any thoughts you may have on this month’s column or any word you may like to share with our readers along with your insights and comments to  dzapatka@wbhsi.net.