• eleemosynary •
Pronunciation: e-lê-mah-sê-ne-ree • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Based on charitable contributions, having to do with charity. 2. Altruistic, contributed as charity without expectation of compensation.
Notes: Eleemosynary is an isolated adjective with no corresponding noun or verb. Someone did attempt to launch eleemosynate "to give alms" in the 17th century. That word, however, lived a short, uneventful life. Altruistic and today's word are close in meaning but, while altruistic focuses on doing charitable work freely, eleemosynary implies the transfer of money for charitable work.
In Play: Giving to charitable organizations may be eleemosynary but so can receiving donations: "Joy works for an eleemosynary organization that provides housing for the homeless." Do you need a raise? You might try a suggestion like this: "Although I am devoted to this organization, my work is not intended as an eleemosynary contribution." (If you say "charitable", they won't look up from the desk.)
Word History: Today's Good Word is a world-class lexical traveler. It began its journey as Medieval Latin eleemosynarius "alms", which by Late Latin had been reduced to eleemosyna. This six-syllable word entered Old English, where it was reduced to ælmesse, which was ultimately whittled down to the single syllable, alms! By this time the relationship to eleemosynary was unrecognizable, so we borrowed this word again directly from Latin—the old two-for-the-price-of-one trick practiced so often by English. The Latin word was borrowed from Greek eleemosyne "pity, charity", from eleemon "pitiful", the adjective of eleos "pity".