• rife •
Pronunciation: raif • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Highly prevalent, occurring widely and profusely, filled with, packed with. 2. Occurring in great numbers over a wide area; superabundant, plentiful, abounding in.
Notes: As we will see in the Word History, today's Good Word is a genuine English word, not a borrowing, which means it is subject to the original English comparative forms, rifer and rifest. The adverb is rifely and the noun, rifeness, though they are rarely used.
In Play: Rifeness is usually a blessing: "The country markets are rife with freshly picked flowers and vegetables in the summer." But then rifeness can be a blessing or a curse: "My e-mail is so rife with spam I can barely get to the messages I want to read."
Word History: This word, as mentioned above, seems to be an English original. The old Germanic languages are rife with relatives, but none seem to have survived: Middle Dutch rijf, Old Icelandic rifr, Old Swedish river, and Old Norse rifr—all meaning something like "abundant". It does not seem to be related to ripe (German reif) and reap, even though the semantics of all these words touch: ripened fruit is usually reaped at the height of its abundance. Clear evidence, however, is lacking. (I hope our thoughts today are rife with words of gratitude to Chris Stewart for suggesting a word from his home in South Africa.)