• wary •Pronunciation: we-ri • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Prudent, cautious, leery, vigilant. 2. Suspicious, skeptical, alert to danger.
Notes: Aware is closely related to this word, but it is what I call a "defective" adjective since it may be used only in the predicate ('The boy is aware'). We can't say ' the aware boy'. We can say 'the wary boy'. The adverb for this adjective is warily and the noun, wariness. Don't forget to change the Y to I.
In Play: The first sense of today's word is close to that of simply aware, that is, cautious: "Harry Beard was wary of investing in the stock market." However, it may be used when we are suspicious of some kind of danger: "Marian Kine is wary of any man who tells her to trust him."
Word History: In Old English today's Good Word was wær "aware, alert", from Proto-Germanic waraz, source also of German gewahr "aware". Proto-Germanic inherited the word from PIE wer- "perceive, watch out for". With the common Germanic prefix ge- this PIE word came to Old English as gewær, which is today aware. Beware is a verbalization of the same PIE root. English ward "to guard" and warden also contain this root. When French borrowed ward that language had no W sound, so the French matched the W in ward with the closest sound they had, GU, pronounced [gw] at the time. The result was guard. English promptly borrowed the French variant as a substitute for ward and assigned the sense of "someone who is guarded" to ward. (William Hupy, a Senior Lexiterian in the Alpha Agora and long-time contributor to our series, recommended today's very Good Word.)