Word of the Day: Procrustean


Procrustean

adjective

Marked by arbitrary ruthlessness and disregard for special or extenuating circumstances.

In Greek myth, Procrustes was a son of Poseidon with a stronghold on Mount Korydallos, on the sacred way between Athens and Eleusis. There, he had an iron bed in which he invited every passer-by to spend the night, and where he set to work on them with his smith’s hammer, to stretch them to fit. In later tellings, if the guest proved too tall, Procrustes would amputate the excess length; nobody ever fit the bed exactly because secretly Procrustes had two beds. Procrustes continued his reign of terror until he was captured by Theseus, travelling to Athens along the sacred way, who “fitted” Procrustes to his own bed.

Procrustean is a useful word to describe many of the “mandatory minimum”, “zero-tolerance” policies of modern-day American institutions. A grade-school that suspends a nine year old for carrying a tiny plastic raygun in violation of its “zero tolerance” policies is an example of “procrustean” policy run amok.

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