• incendiary •
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Capable of igniting or igniting something else, related to fire or conflagration. 2. Related to or having to do with arson. 3. Highly provocative, inflammatory, capable of inciting a person or group to radical action.
Notes: Today's word is an adjective but an adjective that is often used as a noun. As a noun it refers to either an arsonist or a person who inflames others to actions they would otherwise not participate in, as Leon Trotsky was a revolutionary incendiary. The practice of either type of incendiary is incendiarism because they tend to incendiarize buildings or crowds.
In Play: Explosives that ignite fires are called incendiary devices but we may also use this word metaphorically as a synonym of inflammatory: "Reverend Wright did not realize that his remarks were so incendiary until the US press injected them into the Democratic presidential campaign." The only alternative for arsonist might seem to be the slang word torch, but today's adjective can serve that function equally well: "There is suspicion that Benny Fischel hired an incendiary to torch his business for the insurance."
Word History: Today's Good Word was borrowed from the Latin adjective, incendiarius, of incendium "fire", a noun which went on to become Portuguese incêndio and Spanish incendio. The noun comes from the verb incendere "to ignite, set on fire", comprising in- "in, start" + candere "shine, burn". The original root, cand-, is also the root of English candle, borrowed from Latin candela. The Latin adjective candidus, also derived from candere, originally meant "burning, bright" and from there migrated to "white", then to "pure and guileless", before being borrowed by English as candid. (To be candid, we are very grateful to Pauline Rodwell for suggesting today's fiery Good Word.)
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