• apotropaic •
Pronunciation: æ-pê-trê-pay-ik • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Capable of warding off evil or bad luck, protecting against misfortune.
Notes: Apotropaism is the process of dispelling evil with magic. An apotropaism is also the amulet, talisman, incantation, or spell that supposedly dispels it. Applying mysticism apotropaically should keep you evil- and misfortune-free for as long as the magic lasts. Click here for a glossary of mysical beliefs.
In Play: Some Haitians apparently consider human heads to be apotropaic: in 2006 a woman of Haitian origin was arrested by US Customs when a head was discovered in her suitcase (click here for proof). However, people who believe that voodoo or other magic can ward off evil and misfortune differ in exactly what they believe an effective apotropaism is: "Ty Kuhn considers money the best apotropaism—if you have enough of it." Meanness sometimes works in milder situations: "Phillipa Bird returned from her unsuccessful sales trip with an apotropaic scowl on her face".
Word History: Today's Good Word comes from Greek apotropaios, a word borrowed and kept alive in modern Hebrew as apitropos "guardian, trustee". The Greek original came from the verb apotrepein "to ward off", made up of apo "away from" + trepein "to turn". The noun from trepein is tropos "a turn", which turns up in English trope "metaphor", a figurative turn of word or phrase (similes, hyperboles, and the like are all tropes). Quite a few other English words are based on this borrowing. Sunflowers are heliotropic, which means that they always turn toward the sun. The tropics are determined by the turning of the Earth on its cock-eyed axis. (It is now time to turn to thanking Sara Goldman for adding to our good luck by suggesting this word for our series.)