Interesting Words
Alarum • Noun

Pronunciation: Ə-lahr-rƏm

An alarum is a sudden shock caused by the realization of approaching danger. It is usually an auditory warning of that danger. It can also be used to refer to a mechanism that sounds a warning, such as a clock alarum or a radio alarum.

Of course, this word is now simply a poetic variant of alarm, used mostly for rhetorical effect. Alarm itself doesn’t have a very large family, but it also serves as a verb (only spelled alarm) The verb provides an adjective alarming and an adverb alarmingly. The verb also means “to suddenly frighten,” as ‘The smoke coming from under the hood of a car alarmed everyone in the car.’

The most common alarum is the one that reminds us another day has opened shop: “Burnham Goode has developed such a resistance to the sound of clock alarums that it is difficult to judge when he might arrive at work.” The verb implies the reaction to something upsetting: “My English teacher was alarmed at my spelling of alarum.”

This word is a variant of the original alarm, resulting from misperception of the trilling of the [r], now preserved only in some dialects of Scots English. The original alarm, however, comes from Old Italian allarme, a reduction of the interjection all’arme “To arms!” This phrase is a contraction of a “to” + la “the” + archaic arme “arms.” Italian arme descended from Latin arma “tools, (military) arms” and not armus “upper arm.” However, it is easy to see that both words go back to the same PIE root, ar- “to fit together.”

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