• stupefy •
Pronunciation: styu-pê-fai • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, transitive
Meaning: 1. To stun, deaden the senses. 2. To befuddle, daze, mystify, to make groggy or confused. 3. To astound to the point of speechlessness
Notes: The noun corresponding to this verb is a bit of a surprise: stupefaction and not the expected stupefication. The adjective, stupefacient, is also a bit odd. The noun and adjective reflect the fact that English borrowed this word both from Latin (the noun and the adjective) and French (the verb). The Word History will explain how this came to be.
In Play: The original sense of today's Good Word has been associated with intoxication more than blows to the head: "The vodka Tory poured into the water cooler stupefied the boss more than the rest of the office, since he spends more time than anyone else hanging out there." Today, however, the third meaning probably is the most popular: "The news that she had won the lottery stupefied Myna Byrd to the point that she couldn't utter a word."
Word History: Today's word is clearly related to another recent Good Word, stupendous. Like stupendous, it comes from Latin stupere "to be stunned, dizzy headed" but in a compound, stupefacere "to benumb, stun, deaden". The compound contains the root of stupere, stup- + facere "to make, cause". English borrowed its noun and adjective forms from the Latin compound. Facere in Latin compounds was reduced to -fier in French, resulting in stupefier in this case, which English borrowed for its verb. However, the French word ends on a specific French ending (infinitive), -er, which English regularly removed as it borrowed such words, hence purify, dignify, and, of course, stupefy. Outside compounds like these, Latin facere became French faire "do, make", as in 'laisse faire ("let-do") economic systems', systems with no controls on commercial enterprises. (Today's Good Word came from Monroe Thomas Clewis, a man of considerable savoir faire [social know-how-to-do] when it comes to finding interesting words like this one.)