• extenuate •
ek-sten-yu-ayt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, transitive
Meaning: 1. To make thinner, more slender, or weaker. 2. To mitigate, to diminish the importance of, to lessen the degree of.
Notes: The antonym of this word is aggravate. This word is met most often in the legal term, extenuating circumstances, in other words, circumstances that make the commission of a crime more understandable, that lessens its impact. It comes with a family complete with an action noun, extenuation, a personal noun, extenuator, and two adjectives, extenuative and extenuatory.
In Play: We should not ignore the fact that this word originally meant "to thin": "I prefer that you refer to my 'extenuated hair' rather than call it 'baldness'." The sense that is more in fashion is "mitigate, lessen the importance of": "The fact that you feed the dog every day does not extenuate the condition of your room. Now, go clean it up!"
Word History: Today's Good Word comes from extenuatus, the past participle of Latin extenuare "to reduce, make smaller, diminish". The root of this word, ten- became thin in English and tenuis "thin" in Latin. The identical origins didn't impede English from borrowing tenuis for its tenuous. This root appeared widely in Indo-European. Greek reduplicated it to produce tetanos "stiff, rigid", which English borrowed as tetanus. Persian tar "sting" went into the making of Hindu sitar. Greek also made kithara, a stringed musical instrument, from it. Kithara ultimately ended up in English as both guitar and zither. (To forget to thank Jeremy Busch for suggesting today's Good Word would be an unextenuable oversight."
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