• emeritus •
Pronunciation: ee-mer-ê-tês • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective, postpositional
Meaning: A retired holder of some office who is allowed to hold their title as a matter of honor.
Notes: Today's word has a feminine form used in English, emerita, as 'Professor Mildred Martin, professor emerita'. Aside from this sister, emeritus has no derivational family; it is a lexical orphan.
In Play: Today this word is used almost exclusively for retired university professors: "Hooker Crook was made professor emeritus of criminal investigation at Capone University because he took his lectures too much to heart." The same applies to the feminine form: "After Sara Bellam retired, she assumed a job as chef in a five-star restaurant while still a professor emerita."
Word History: Today's Good Word is purely Latin emeritus "veteran soldier" from emerere "so serve out, earn, merit, deserve", comprising e(x) "out from" + merere "to deserve, be entitled to". The Latin word seems to have come from a PIE word, (s)mer-/(s)mor- "to allot, assign", source also of Greek meros "portion, share". Since we find so little evidence of this word in Indo-European languages, it has been suggested that the root might come from Etruscan, a lost language spoken in the region of Etruria in Italy. However, even less evidence of it appears in what we know of Etruscan. (Thank you Jeremy Busch for your service on the GW editorial board and for suggesting today's Good Word in the discussion of delinquent.)