• usufruct •
yu-zê-frêkt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: The right to benefit from the use of property belonging to someone else.
Notes: Today's Good Word comes from the world of law and hasn't mingled with the general language enough to develop a large family of derivations. We do find usufructuary, though, someone who enjoys rights of usufruct. Some speakers prefer to pronounce the letter S in this word as [s] rather than [z] (see Pronunciation). No big deal.
In Play: Natural gas companies are rapidly buying rights of usufruct for the natural gas found beneath a growing number of properties in Pennsylvania. This gives the companies the right to remove the gas from the land while the land itself remains the property of the current owners. Other uses of this word present themselves constantly: "Clarence Sales tells everyone that he has temporary usufruct of Sue Perich's home, but we all know he is just house-sitting."
Word History: Today's Good Word is a modification of Late Latin usufructus, a reduction of Classical Latin ususfructus, made up of usus "use, used", the past participle of uti "to use" + fructus "enjoyment", the past participle of frui "to enjoy". The original sense of the Latin word was, then, the right to "use and enjoy". The Latin word for "fruit", frux (frug-s), also came from the verb frui but Old French chose fructus for their word, changing it over the years to fruit. The root of fructus goes back to an older root that also descended to Germanic languages, turning up in German brauchen "to use" and Old English bruccan "to use". Applied to food, bruccan meant "able to digest, to tolerate", a sense we have now in its Modern English descendant, to brook. (We could never brook ignoring the fruits of Brian Hall's efforts to bring this Good Word to our attention. Thank you, Brian.)
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