• stigma •
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A mark of shame on the character of someone left by a disgraceful act. 2. A spot or birthmark on the body, especially one indicative of some illness. 3. The marks of the Crucifixion or marks on the human body corresponding to the location of crucifixion wounds that sometimes appear in a state of religious ecstasy. 4. A mark indicative of a history of illness.
Notes: Although the simple plural stigmas is now broadly accepted in US English, the original is still available: stigmata. We have our choice of adjectives, stigmal or, my personal favorite, stigmatic. The verb, stigmatize (stigmatise in the UK), means "to bring disgrace upon".
In Play: This word originally referred to the brand applied to criminals in days past, but today it is used mostly in reference to a figurative brand: "Loretta turned down my proposal of marriage, so now she'll have to bear the stigma of breaking the heart of a wonderful guy for the rest of her life!" Don't forget the irregular plural of today's word: "The stigmata of his wild life in college haunted Ben de Hellenbeque until he landed his first job."
Word History: Today's Good Word was taken from Latin stigma "tattoo or brand placed on a criminal". Latin borrowed this word from Greek, where it also referred to a tattoo indicating slave or criminal status. It was derived from Greek stigma, stigmat- "tattoo mark", from stizein, stig- "to stick, prick". The Greek root goes back farther to a Proto-Indo-European word steig- "to stick", which was also inherited by Germanic languages. It is visible in German stechen, Dutch steken, and English stick. The original word also appeared with the "Fickle N" of Indo-European languages, an N which came and went for reasons we don't understand. It provided English with another variant: sting. (We would not want to acquire a stigma by forgetting the contributor of today's Good Word, so we end by thanking Robert Fitzgerald for sharing it with us.)
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