• ruth •
Pronunciation: ruth • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: Compassion, pity, a feeling of sorrow for another.
Notes: This very Good Word has been left by the wayside, kept alive only by ruthless, which means "merciless, without compassion". Yet, we are still at liberty to use the noun by itself. Ruth was made from the verb rue "to regret, feel sorrow for", using an old, outdated suffix -th, as in width, breadth, and sloth, originally from slow. In addition to the negative adjective, ruthless, we also have a positive adjective, ruthful, which some dictionaries consider archaic.
In Play: The English name Ruth probably came from the Biblical Ruth but heavily influenced by today's Good Word: "Ruth took care of her mother in her declining days with the ruth and sensitivity that her name bespoke." Don't forget the positive adjective we may form from this noun: "I thought taking Gervaise out to lunch after the funeral was a very ruthful gesture on Henrietta's part."
Word History: As mentioned above, ruth was originally the noun from the verb to rue. That verb came to mean "regret", however, and today may be used without a suffix as its own noun, "To her everlasting rue, she left before Maisey's special dessert was served." Ruth, however, set out on its own, developing its special meaning. It is not etymologically related to the Hebrew Rut, transliterated as Ruth, from which we gained the name Ruth. Rather, it comes from Middle English ruthe, borrowed from Old Norse hrygdh, no doubt influenced by Old English hreow "sorrow, regret". Ruth was one of those words naming endearing human qualities that the Puritans used widely as names for their children, such as Patience, Grace, and Faith, among others. (I could never be so ruthless as to forget to thank Richard Lively for suggesting today's Good Word.)