• nefarious •
Pronunciation: nê-fæ-ri-ês • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Wicked, wicked, wicked!
Notes: This Good Word has an adverb, nefariously, and the noun, nefariousness. No tricks, traps, or tripwires are attached to this word—just remember the [o] in the suffix.
In Play: Don’t waste today's Good Bad Word on pedestrian evil; save it for those pits of immorality that leave you stunned: "Westerners should be relieved to have outlived the days when nefarious dictators like Hitler and Stalin competed to see who could reach the lowest depths of degradation." Unfortunately, outside the West, applications for this expression continue to impose themselves: "The Rwandan massacre illustrates how diffuse nefariousness can be, with no one culprit standing out among the many."
Word History: Today's word is Latin nefarius with an [o] we dropped in for no apparent reason. The Latin word is based on nefas "crime, transgression" which breaks up into ne- "not" + fas "divine law". Fas is the original PIE root *dho-/dhe (which also produced English do and deed) with an old suffix, -s. With a suffix –c (pronounced -k), it also provided Latin with facere "to do or make". This stem can be seen in the –fex (fec-s) of pontifex, the full word from which pontiff, the title of the pope, derives. Pont, which later came to mean "bridge", originally meant "way," so the word pontifex set out meaning "he who prepares the way"—not, of course, for the nefarious.
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