Impious imps of the devil

Saturday, December 21st, 2019

I had always assumed the word impious was pronounced just like the un-negated root pious, but with an im prepended. While listening to Nelson Runger’s narration of Robert Graves’ I, Claudius, I heard him pronounce it im-pee-uhs, and, sure enough, that’s the preferred pronunciation.

This pronunciation conjures the image of a mischievous imp, which has its own odd, unrelated etymology:

The Old English noun impa meant a young shoot or scion of a plant or tree, and later came to mean the scion of a noble house, or a child in general. Starting in the 16th century, it was often used in expressions like “imps of serpents”, “imp of hell”, “imp of the devil”, and so on; and by the 17th century, it came to mean a small demon, a familiar of a witch.


  1. Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Bottle Imp” is a masterful piece.

  2. Faze says:

    I’m jealous of you if you’re just discovering “I Claudius” or Robert Graves in general. Every historical novel Graves wrote was interesting (I’ve read most of them). So was his WWI memoir.

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