• gravitas •
græ-vê-tahs • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass
Meaning: Earnestness, seriousness of tone, substance, or demeanor that elicits the respect of others (especially voters).
Notes: Latin words always elicit a special sort of respect from English speakers, so expressing seriousness of tone or demeanor with a purely Latin word (see Word History), is particularly appropriate. However, since the word is purely Latin, it has no English derivational family. It is out there all alone.
In Play: Today's Good Word generally surfaces during elections when voters become interested in the ability of politicians to appear eminent and statesman-like: "The three remaining candidates in the race for president exhibit the gravitas required for the presidency." Gravitas has disappeared elsewhere, however: "It is difficult to report current news with the gravitas of such older reporters as Walter Cronkite and Peter Jennings."
Word History: Today's Good Word, as mentioned above, is the Latin word gravitas "weight, heaviness" untouched and untouched-up. It is obviously the source of English gravity, grave (in the sense of "serious"), as well as aggravate "make more serious". The same root, gwr-/gwor- went on to become guru "heavy, venerable" in Sanskrit, the language from which Hindi descended. We borrowed guru with a slightly different meaning from Hindi. We know the initial consonant of this root was GW and not simply G because it became B in Greek, as it was supposed to. We find this root in barys "heavy", the first constituent in baritone and barometer. (Today we thank Barbara Kelly with all the gravitas we can muster for suggesting today's very topical Good Word.)
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