• mortify •
Part of Speech: Verb
Meaning: 1. To embarrass horrendously, to humiliate beyond all measure. 2. To discipline yourself by abstinence and privation of the physical urges. 3. To become gangrenous or necrotic (a part of the body).
Notes: Today's Good Word comes with a regular set of derivations. Mortification is the process noun and mortifier, the personal noun. The latter refers only to an ascetic who practices mortification of the flesh and not to someone who spends his or her time embarrassing people.
In Play: Save mortify for those occasions when the embarrassment is almost too great for words: "Maud Lynn Dresser was positively mortified when she saw Portia Carr wearing the same dress as her at the spring cotillion." The association of death with embarrassment that we will see in the Word History is a long-standing one, reflected in such figurative uses as, "I just died when I fell in the pool at the party." You might as well say, "I was just mortified when I fell in the pool at the party."
Word History: So it is no surprise that today's Good Word came from Old French mortifier, the descendant of Latin mortificare "to kill", based on mor(t)s "death". The underlying root, mer-/mor- "death", made its way into a plethora of words throughout the Indo-European languages, such as English murder and Russian smert' "death", and in Latin borrowings like mortuary, mortal, and morbid. In Greek this root picked up a B, which shows up in ambrosia "food of the immortal gods" from a "not" + mbrotos "mortal". Finally, the same root became mare "death spirit, goblin" in Old English, notable today only in the compound noun nightmare.
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