• penury •
Pronunciation: pen-yu-ree • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: 1. Extreme poverty or destitution. 2. An extreme lack of or insufficiency in.
Notes: Today's word comes with an adjective, penurious, and an adverb, penuriously, that may be used with impunity. Otherwise, this word is straightforward and without pitfalls. Save it for those occasions when you wish to express the most extreme kind of poverty.
In Play: Penury is beyond poverty; it is crushing poverty of the worst kind: "Ben de Hellenbeque did not allow a childhood of penury to prevent him from becoming one of the preeminent financial leaders of the country." He was recently quoted as saying, "The world of finance is currently undergoing a major economic collapse set off by people displaying a penury of conscience and prudence."
Word History: Today's Good Word is just another borrowing from French, which inherited it from Latin penuria "poverty". It is difficult to trace the root of this word backwards, but it apparently comes from a root meaning "to harm, to damage", for it appears in German Feind "enemy" and Latin paenitere "to make repent". This latter word is the source of English penitentiary, penance, and penitence. Apparently poverty was originally seen as a type of punishment, for we see it in other Latin borrowings, such as penal and penalty. (I would be guilty of a penury of gratitude were I to forget to thank Mark Bailey for suggesting today?s very Good Word.)