What does cynosure mean?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: cynosure.

I’ve been a longtime fan of the writer Julian Barnes. And I think his 2005 novel, Arthur & George, is my favourite. A fictionalized account of  Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and half-Indian solicitor, George Edalji, who was wrongly accused of a crime, the book traces the story of both men and charts the fascinating intersection of their lives. (Incredibly, the story is true and has recently been turned into a mini-series by British iTV.)

In addition to giving me many hours of reading pleasure, the book also gave me my word of the week, the noun cynosure. Here’s how Barnes used it:

Once again he was the boy standing on the school desk deploying his vocal tricks; the cynosure of raised eyes, the cause of mouths dropped open in credulity.

A cynosure is a person or thing that is the center of attention or admiration. Its roots can be traced to the Middle French word, cynosure, which in turn comes from the Latin cynosura, meaning literally the “dog’s tail,” — referring to the constellation (now known as Ursa Minor) containing the North Star. This of course comes from the Greek kynosoura, also meaning the  “dog’s tail.”