• scathe •
Part of Speech: Verb, transitive
Meaning: 1. To harm or injure, especially by burning. 2. To excoriate, to rake over the coals, to chew out, to furiously criticize.
Notes: This still Good Word, despite being pulled from Merriam-Webster's dictionary, is common in only two forms today in English. The present participle, as in a scathing remark, and the negated past participle, to escape a catastrophe unscathed. It is a mystery why these two forms of the verb are used while other forms of this verb are widely eschewed.
In Play: Today this word is most closely associated with burning and scorching: "The forest fire leapt out of control and scathed several acres of marijuana worth millions of tax-free dollars." This allows it to be used figuratively to express anger, an emotion we associate with heat: "The boss gave Mortimer a right proper scathing for adding vodka to the punch at the office party."
Word History: Today's Good Word belongs to a large family of words spread throughout the family of Germanic languages. In English, it began as Old English scathian "to injure, rob", but we also find Old Frisian skathia "to injure", and Old Norse, the source of modern Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish, skatha "it hurts". Today we have Dutch schaden "to injure", German schaden "to damage", and Swedish skada and Danish skade "to hurt, injure". The root is found beyond the Germanic languages in Greek (a)skethes "(un)harmed" and words in a few other Indo-European languages.
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