• compunction •
Pronunciation: kêm-pêngk-shên • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass
Meaning: Guilt, reservation, the sting of conscience, the source of our qualms.
Notes: The need for today's Good Word seems to be diminishing: rappers advocate immorality, radio and TV thrive on it, while most business and political leaders seem to have lost their bearings. 'Tis a shame, too, for this word has a happy family of relatives: compunctious is the positive adjective and compunctionless, the negative. Both may be used adverbially by simply daubing on the suffix -ly.
In Play: It is respect for compunction that prevents us from behavior that makes us uncomfortable: "Aly Monie must have gotten a great settlement in her divorce: she now spends $400 a week on hairdos without any compunction at all." Compunction borders either side of the straight-and-narrow path that we all try hard to follow: "Sturbridge felt no compunction including the gifts to his girlfriends in his travel expenses."
Word History: Today's Good Word was borrowed from Old French componction, the legal heir of Latin compunctio(n) "puncture, prick of conscience". This noun came from the verb compungere "to prick, sting", made up of the prefix com-, used here as an intensive prefix, plus pungere "to prick, stick". The root of this word goes back to Proto-Indo-European peuk- or peug- with a Fickle N, that comes and goes mysteriously, such as the one we saw recently in the ancestor of languor. Without the Fickle N we see in pungere, this root appears in Latin pugil "boxer", origin of English pugilist. (Without the least bit of compunction, indeed, without so much as a qualm, we generously thank Lee Blue for suggesting today's Good Word.)