• hieratic •
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Sacred, characterizing or used by priests. 2. Having to do with a simplified form of hieroglyphics. 3. Highly formal in style, adhering tightly to the standards of a style.
Notes: Today's word is another lexical loner (not to be confused with the thousands of lexical loaners English thrives on). It may be extended by the suffix -al without altering the first two meanings and we must use this extension in the adverb, hieratically.
In Play: The word is probably used most widely today in referring to a cursive form of Egyptian hieroglyphics, used in day-to-day correspondence. The hieratic writing system spread throughout the Middle East and eventually became the writing systems of Greek, the source of the Latin script used in Europe today, Arabic, and those of the Indian subcontinent and beyond. But let's not lose sight of this word's original meaning: "In some lands the priests form a hieratic class with considerable political power, sometimes forming a hierocracy." The most recent sense of this word is that of a rigidly fixed style: "Amand Lynn wrote songs in the hieratic style of the 30s and 40s consisting of two verses, a bridge, and a third verse."
Word History: Today's Good Word is the English rendition of Latin hieraticus "priestly", a word borrowed from Greek hieratikos "priestly". This word was derived from hierateia "priesthood", an abstract noun derived from hiereus "priest", and ultimately going back to hieros "holy". This word comes from an Indo-European root referring in some way to passion, for it emerged directly in Latin as ira "anger". The French version of this word was then borrowed by English as ire. (Today we tip our hat in thanks to the mysterious Klimt, a member of the hieratic caste of the Alpha Agora since 2007.)
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