• challenge •
Pronunciation: chæ-lenj • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, Noun
Meaning: 1. To confront and dare to do something, such as to compete in a game or do something dangerous. 2. To confront and call into question, as for a sentry to challenge an approaching stranger or challenge the results of an election. 3. To severely test, to make great demands, as a job might challenge our abilities.
Notes: Today's Good Word may be used as a verb or a noun with pretty much the same meanings: a challenge is a dare or calling into question. The adjective is the verbal participle, challenging, as a challenging (demanding) job. The adjective challengeable may be used in sense No. 2, as challengeable qualifications. The past participle, challenged, is often used as a euphemism for handicapped, as a physically challenged person.
In Play: A challenge may involve only one person: "Herbie isn't good at multitasking: doing his job and breathing at the same time challenge his capacities." On the other hand, it may involve two people: "Little did Little know, when he challenged Marguerite to a friendly game of horseshoes for $100, that she was then the reigning US champion at that game."
Word History: Middle English borrowed chalenge from Old French, a language that was peculiar for changing C [k] to CH [ch] before A. Latin castellus "castle" became château in French and caritas "affection" became charité (borrowed by English as charity). French chalenge came from Latin calumnia "trickery, false accusation", a noun based on the verb calvi "to deceive". So a challenge was originally a false accusation. The sense of confrontation carried on but the general meaning of this word moved from a negative to a positive sense somewhere along the way between Latin and English. (Today we thank Perry Dror, who quite handily meets the challenge of finding words with stories as good as today's.)