• rectitude •Pronunciation: rek-ti-tyud • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: 1. Righteousness, uprightness, moral integrity. 2. Straightness.
Notes: Today's Good Word comes with an adjective, rectitudinous, with an extra particle, -in, buffering the suffix from the stem (see Word History). This automatically allows for an adverb rectitudinously. I am also comfortable with rectitudinal, though most dictionary compilers seem to ignore it. Someone who adheres to the highest standards of rectitude may be called a rectitudinarian, though be careful with this word: rectitudinarians may take offense at it.
In Play: We often forget that rectitude primarily refers to physical straightness: "The flowers in Dewey Rose's garden were aligned with a perfect rectitude no surveyor could surpass." Today we tend to use this word more in reference to walking the straight (rectitudinous) and narrow: "Miss Deeds was considered a woman of absolute rectitude until she was discovered in the cloakroom with Phil Anders during lunch period."
Word History: The Middle French word rectitude "straightness" descended through the ages directly from Latin rectitudo, rectitudin- "straightness, uprightness". This noun was derived from the adjective rectus "straight", a combination of the root reg- "make straight" plus the suffix -tus. We see the same root in words like erect, correct and even insurrection, despite the fact that the rectitude of insurgents is often questionable. The root reg- also went into the making rex, regis "king", source of English regal and regula "straight rod", which French smoothed down to rule. (Did you ever wonder why ruler means "straight rule" and "king"?) The Germanic languages also inherited the stem reg-t-. It ended up in German as richten "to judge, to straighten" and to English as right. (Lest we put our own rectitude in question, we must now thank Joyce Rhode for suggesting today's righteously Good Word.)