• leery •Pronunciation: leer-ri • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Suspicious, distrusting, wary.
Notes: Today's Good Word is an adjective based on leer "to gaze with a sly, malign expression" (see Word History for the connection). The adverb is leerily and the noun, the expectable leeriness. Look our for the Y changing to I. Remember, too, the king in the Shakespearean play is 'King Lear', spelled a little different from leer.
In Play: Having a slight suspicion about something makes you leery of it: "Hank wants to buy an all-electric Tesla, but is leery of its batteries' efficiency." If you are distrustful of something, you are leery of it as well: "Grandpa never got a computer because he was leery of the claims of their simplicity."
Word History: The original meaning of the verb to leer was "to look askance (disdainfully) at", a reaction to something you are suspicious of. Should this line of reasoning work, today's word probably comes from Middle English noun ler "cheek", Old English hleor. If we look askance at something, we turn our eyes to our cheek. So there is a link from leer to the notion of "cheek", however skimpy. If leer does come from Old English hleor, it would be related to Proto-Germanic kleuso- "ear", which came from from Proto-Indo-European root kleu- "to hear". This root also turns up in English listen, loud and if our speculation is correct, leer.