Solon – an ancient sage and a synonym

June 11, 2018 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: writing.

If you read the quotations from the speeches of John F. Kennedy in my post about them or in last week’s newsletter, you might remember one of his references to someone named Solon, whom he identified as an Athenian lawmaker.

Solon (638-558 BC) was more than that. He is listed as one of the Seven Sages of Antiquity.

Solon was indeed a lawmaker, but he is credited with many of the ideas and law that established Athenian democracy. Solon proposed a number of reforms that generally expanded the government to include more than a few elites. He also had ideas about economic reforms that would be of benefit to the general public.

Solon was a poet who was concerned about the greed, arrogance, and general moral decay of the Athenian citizenry. He also formalized sexual mores of his time.


I first encountered the word “solon” early in my journalistic career. Headline writers, searching for a shorter word than “legislature” or “lawmaker” would sometimes use “solon” as a synonym. The problem was that newspaper readers did not know what this odd word meant, and thus confusion abounded. Solon became one of the words we were taught NOT to use in a headline.

Now that I know where the word originates, I think it said that we had to discontinue its use.


And more on the Seven Sages of Antiquity later.

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