New York Times columnist David Brooks walks out a new word to me in his column today: Barack Obama "grew up with an absent father and a peripatetic mother." But his use of the word is a bit off, as the Times' handy double-click-on-a-word-to-get-a-definition feature* shows with the American Heritage Dictionary:
adj. 1. Walking about or from place to place; traveling on foot. 2. Peripatetic Of or relating to the philosophy or teaching methods of Aristotle, who conducted discussions while walking about in the Lyceum of ancient Athens.
I doubt that Obama's mom actually walked them to each of their various homes, especially Hawaii. I generally applaud the use of big words that send newspaper readers to the dictionary, but only when used correctly. A lot of big words tend to have a specialized meaning, like peripatetic. It doesn't quite fit here. Itinerant would be closer to the mark.
As a noun, peripatetic also emphasizes walking, though it does allow for itinerant:
1. One who walks from place to place; an itinerant. 2. Peripatetic A follower of the philosophy of Aristotle; an Aristotelian.
And the etymology shows its walking roots:
[Middle English peripatetik, from Latin peripatēticus, from Greek peripatētikos, from peripatein, to walk about, or from peripatos, covered walk (where Aristotle allegedly lectured) : peri-, peri- + patein , to walk.]
*The Times has upgraded this feature slightly. It used to be that when you double-clicked a word it automatically opened a pop-up window with the definition. Now a little word balloon with a question mark appears, and you can click on that for the definition. Major improvement. I'm always randomly clicking on things as I read (a hazard of copy-editing on a computer all day), and it was always annoying to accidentally get the definition for "the" or whatever else I'd wandered upon.