• avail •
Part of Speech: Verb
Meaning: To be of value, of use, to afford help.
Notes: Today's Good Word wanders a bit semantically. The noun avail generally refers to results: to make several attempts to no avail. The adjective, available, means "can be obtained", as all available assistance is appreciated. The reflexive form, to avail oneself, is generally used in the sense of "to take advantage of", as to avail oneself of the facilities at the YMCA. The basic meaning of the verb, however, is to be of some value or help.
In Play: The verb avail may be used transitively or intransitively. It may be used with a direct object like this: "All his millions could not avail Robin Banks in his quest for a happy life." Without a direct object we may use the verb thus: "None of April Day's clever arguments availed to convince her parents to let her drive the new car to the shore."
Word History: Today's Good Word is an Old English concoction of a- "to" + vailen "to avail". Vailen is a variant of the stem of the Old French verb valoir "to be worth", inherited from Latin valere "to be worth". This same verb went into the words that English borrowed as valid, valiant, and valor. (Let me avail myself of the opportunity now to thank Mary Jane Stoneburg, one of the Good Word editors, for pointing out this interesting word family to us.)
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