• swarthy •
Pronunciation: swor-dhee • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Dark or having a dark complexion.
Notes: We like to occasionally run a purely English word just for fun, a word English developed on its own rather than borrowed from a Romance language like French, Italian, or Spanish. Swarthy is just such a word. It is a mysterious variant of another adjective, swart "dark, black" which is much eschewed these days. Since this is a two-syllable word ending on Y, it is compared in the traditional English way: swarthier and swarthiest. The quality of being swarthy is expressed by the noun, swarthiness. Be sure to switch the Y for I in all these forms.
In Play: Today's word is probably used most often to refer to human complexion: "Then the defense lawyer asked, 'Ms. Dimmital, if the man was, as you say, 'quite swarthy', how could you make out his face in your back yard in the middle of the night?'" It may be used, however, to refer to things other than people: "It was that swarthy time of the early evening when the sun has moved out of view but lurks just below the horizon."
Word History: This word came to Old English as sweart "black" from the same Proto-Germanic source that gave Dutch zwart and German its schwarz "black", from which Yiddish gets its shvarts. The Proto-Indo-European root of this word is swordo- "dirty, dark, black". This root emerged in Latin as sordidus "dirty", apparently based on a lost word sordus "dirt, grime". English could not resist the sordid act of blatantly copying most of this word for its own vocabulary: sordid. (The brightest spot in today's otherwise rather dark Good Word is Susan Hays, who was kind enough to suggest it.)