• demure •
Pronunciation: di-myur • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Reserved to the point of modesty, underspoken, restrained. 2. Coyly reserved, affectedly shy or modest.
Notes: The trick to today's Good Word lies in the avoidance of any confusion with the very similar verb: demur [dê-mêr], which means either "to show reluctance, be hesitant" or, in legal proceedings, "to object that certain facts do not bear on an argument". You may say, "Theo rightfully demurred from giving the caller the number of his checking account." Today's word, demure, is an adjective with a distinctively different pronunciation. The usual noun associated with it is demureness but I rather like an older one, demurity.
In Play: Did you ask if I could work both these confusing words into one sentence? Listen to this: "Cherry Pitt demurred from the offer of a second dessert, waiting until asked a second time, at which point she demurely accepted." This word suggests that someone is faking modesty: "When the distraught woman asked if he had any knowledge of car engines, the retired mechanic replied, 'A sprinkling,' with a demure smile."
Word History: Today's Good Word apparently originates with an Old French phrase de (bon) murs "of (good) manners. Modern French moeurs "custom, lifestyle" is a descendant of murs. This word was inherited by French from Latin mos, moris "manner, habit, custom". We don't know how Latin came upon it; there is no evidence of it in any other Proto-Indo-European language. English borrowed the Latin root in words that are the basis for mores and moral. The verb demur came into English from an Anglo-Norman word, demurer "to delay" from Latin demorari. The Latin verb is built upon de "from" + mora "a delay".