• effete •
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Wimpy, ineffective, sapped of strength, vitality or efficacy, exhausted. 2. Overly refined, too civil, effeminate. 3. Infertile, incapable of reproducing.
Notes: The most famous usage of this word in the US was former Vice President Spiro Agnew's depiction of the student anti-war protesters of the 60s as "effete intellectual snobs." Agnew later resigned his office but not for this gratuitous potshot. The adjective has an adverb, effetely, and a noun, effeteness.
In Play: Governments may be effete: "When revolutionaries asked Russian Tsar Nicholas II to abandon the throne in 1917, his regime had become so effete that he did so without resistance." People may be effete: "Mark Downs has become such an effete salesman that he has only closed one deal this month." Even dogs become effete, especially late in life: "My old dog Wimpy has become so effete that he doesn't even wag his tail when I call him any more."
Word History: Today's Good Word is the English makeover of Latin effetus "worn out, exhausted", consisting of ex- "out of" + fetus "filled with young, pregnant". The original reference was to the condition of a woman who had just delivered a child. The Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root of fetus was dhe- which, suffixed with -t, became fetus. Suffixed with -n it provided the root of fawn. This word came down from Old French feon "young animal," a reduction of Vulgar Latin feton-, a form of Latin fetus. Fetus later came to mean "offspring" in Late Latin but was borrowed into English with its current meaning. Suffixed with -m and -n, the same PIE root developed into Latin femina "woman", the word from which French féminin(e) was made before it became femme "woman".
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