• empire •
Pronunciation: em-pair • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. An extensive political area under one government that includes several distinct nations or territories. 2. An enormous enterprise with many branches under one authority, such as a sports empire.
Notes: In the 18th and 19th centuries European countries competed for the largest empires: the British, French, Russian, and Spanish empires were perhaps the largest, but Germany, Italy, and Portugal had smaller ones. The derivatives of this word all begin on the letter I: the neutral adjective is imperial and the noun, imperialism. Now, imperialism clears the way for another adjective, imperialistic "like an imperialist, in an imperialist manner".
In Play: Empires did not first arise in the 18th century. Empires go back as far as recorded history: the Assyrian Empire, the Greek and Roman empires, the Ottoman empire, the Persian empire, to name but a few. Despite the disappearance of all these, the word still has a figurative use: "Herb Vinaigrette started with only one restaurant in 1955, and now he has a culinary empire stretching around the globe."
Word History: Today's contributor raised an interesting question: Is there any relation between empire and empirical? It seems as though there should be, but the similarity today is purely coincidental. Empire is what French turned Latin imperium "rule, command" into. This word comes from im- "in" + parare "make ready, provide, arrange". Empirical goes back to Greek empeirikos "experienced", Latin empiricus, French empirique, at which point English borrowed it. The root of this word, peir-, comes from Proto-Indo-European per- "try, risk", which came to English via the more natural route through Old Germanic as fear. (Narges Torkashvand, a university student in Iran—formerly the Persian Empire, for recommending that we compare today's Good Word with empirical.)