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INNOCUOUS

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INNOCUOUS

Postby Dr. Goodword » Fri May 22, 2009 11:25 pm

• innocuous •

Pronunciation: in-nah-kyu-wês • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Harmless, causing no injury; not venomous (snakes). 2. Insipid, inoffensive, all but unnoticeable.

Notes: Today's Good Word is the negative of nocuous, a word losing ground to a distant cousin noxious. It has a standard adverb, innocuously, and noun, innocuousness. You may also use the rarer noun, innocuity, if you are a bit daring. The word history should help you remember that this word is a combination of in- "not" + nocuous "harmful", requiring a double N. Don't forget the two Us separated by an O, either.

In Play: What one person considers innocuous might be considered nocuous by others: "It was an innocuous remark about the high temperature until he compared her to the weather." While innocuous people may be a bit bland, they do tend to be trustworthy, "Duane Pipes is such an innocuous little man, you can trust him with your girlfriend."

Word History: From Latin innocuus "harmless", composed of in- "not" + nocuus "harmful", the adjective from nocere "to harm". The oldest form of this word's root is *nek-/*nok- "death". Derivatives include innocent, nuisance, and nectarine. Innocent comes from the present participle of nocere, negated, innocens, meaning "not causing harm". Nuisance comes from the same participle, polished a bit more by French. The innocent little nectarine took its name from nektar "the drink of the Greek gods", which had, among its best qualities, the capacity to defeat death. (We are happy that Susan Lister is not so innocuous as to miss an opportunity to suggest Good Words like today's.)
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Postby Slava » Sat Jul 21, 2012 9:47 pm

Well, and here I was thinking Insipid would turn out to be an orphan negative. It's not. There is actually a valid non-in word: sipid. Tasty, or of pleasing character.

Fine, it's a back formation from insipid, but it is nearly 400 years old. I say we let it into the ranks of acceptable English.
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Postby misterdoe » Sat Jul 21, 2012 11:00 pm

I take it the innocuous remark example was different from the one attributed to Yogi Berra, where on a hot day a woman complemented him on looking cool and comfortable, and he supposedly replied with "Thanks, and you don't look so hot yourself." :)
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Postby Slava » Sat Jul 21, 2012 11:09 pm

Good catch, misterdoe. :lol:
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