• exorbitant •
Pronunciation: eg-zor-bê-tênt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Far exceeding normal bounds, hugely excessive, outlandish
Notes: Exorbitant comes to us with the usual accessories: an adverb exorbitantly and two closely related nouns, exorbitance and exorbitancy. The original sense of the word (see Word History) was retained by the verb underlying these forms, exorbitate "to deviate from orbit".
In Play: While today's Good Word often arises in connection with cost and prices (usury is charging exorbitant interest), it may be used in referring to anything extraordinarily excessive: "Mildred is a woman of exorbitant beauty, don't you think?" "It seems to me that Jason Sanborn has an exorbitant predilection for coffee: I never see him without a cup in his hand."
Word History: Today's Good Word comes from Latin exorbitan(t)s, the present participle of exorbitare "to jump out of a rut or track", from ex- "out of" + orbita "track, rut, beaten path". The Romans used this verb metaphorically to refer to any deviation from the norm, going off the beaten path. In fact, the noun from this verb, exorbitatio(n) meant "deviation". What is the relation between Latin orbita and English orbit, I hear you think. Well, orbs, orbis means "circle, hoop", in other words, a round object very much like a wheel that makes tracks in the mud. In Roman times, remaining in the tracks of previous chariots prevented your carriage from getting bogged down in mud, so running out of the track was dangerous. (Today we thank Stella Dorro for suggesting such an exorbitantly interesting word.)