• chary •
Pronunciation: chæ-ree, che-ree • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Very careful, cautious, suspiciously reluctant to do something, wary. 2. Shy or modest, fearful.
Notes: Chary is a real English adjective with English comparative forms: charier and chariest. The adverb for this word is charily and the noun, chariness. Nothing surprising here. No, despite its identical pronunciation, this word is not related to cherry, a word English borrowed from French.
In Play: The difference between today's word and wary is very slight: "I'm not surprised that Marian Kine is a little chary of all the attention she is receiving from Phil Anders these days, given Phil's reputation." Chary does imply a bit more suspicion of something going awry than wary, which implies mostly hesitation, proceeding with caution: "Throckmorton has been chary of everyone in the office since someone stole his key to the executive restroom."
Word History: Chary is almost a historical oddity: an interesting word that is purely English. In Old English today's Good Word was cearig "troubled, unhappy, full of cares" for it comes from an old root kara- "care, concern". Carae in Old Irish meant "friend" and caraim "love". As an English noun, this root changed very little aside from the endings, and trickled down to Modern English as care. In Latin it appears in carus "dear, expensive", which ended up in French as cher "dear" and chéri, someone held dear. A verbal extension of this word in Old French was borrowed by English as cherish "to hold dear". (We are never chary of Katy Brezger's suggestions for Good Words—they are always excellent.)