Part of Speech: Verb, transitive
Meaning: 1. To remove by the roots, to pull or cut out wholly with all parts. 2. To totally eradicate, to root out all traces of a problem, including all causes leading up to it.
Notes: Be careful of the accent on the first syllable of this word and the spelling of the middle syllable, -tir-, which is a little unusual for English. Almost any other vowel seems more at home in that syllable. An extirpative (the adjective) activity is extirpation, which makes you an extirpator if you engage in it.
In Play: Aside from surgery, where growths and tumors are regularly extirpated, this word refers to the absolute eradication of things: "The principal announced today that he intends to extirpate all traces of racial prejudice in the school." You might think that this is not a household word, but it works around the house, too: "Mama say she is going to extirpate hip-hop music from the house if it is the last thing she does."
Word History: Today's Good Word is built on the past participle of the Latin verb exstirpare "to root out, eradicate" from ex "out (of)" + stirp-s "trunk, root." The same pre-Latin root that produced stirps in Latin was used by the Germanic languages where it emerged as German sterben "to die" and English starve. The original root (s)terp- meant "stiff" and it also turns up without that initial S in Latin as torpere "to be stiff". This verb produced the Latin words borrowed by English as torpid and—would you believe it?—torpedo, from the Latin word meaning "electric ray", whose sting can stiffen you up a bit.
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