• indigent •
Pronunciation: in-dê-jênt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective, noun
Meaning: 1. Needy, impoverished, poor, destitute. 2. Lacking in anything necessary, wanting, deficient.
Notes: Today's word, although basically an adjective, may be used as a noun, as in, "There are too many indigents living on our streets." We have our choice of abstract nouns, indigence or indigency. The adverb is indigently, as to live indigently. Be careful to keep this word separate from indigenous "native".
In Play: The most widely used sense of today's word is the first one, "poor": "Canby Allgood found helping indigent people life-fulfilling." Let's not lose sight, though, of the second meaning: "Val Haller attended church religiously to make business contacts, although he was indigent of any belief in God."
Word History: Indigent comes to us, via Old French, from Latin indigen(t)s, the present participle of indigere "to need". This word breaks down into indu- "in, within" + egere "to lack". Egere goes back to a Proto-Indo-European word that didn't make it down to us. We only have traces of it in Old Norse ekla "want, lack" and Old High German eccherode "thin, weak". Latin indu- "(with)in" is derived from earlier endo-. We know this because Greek retained the original endo- in its adverb endon "within", which medicine puts to good use: endocrinology, endoscopy, and so on. (We would be indigent of grace were we not to thank Rob Toward for recommending today's Good Word.)