• usury •
Pronunciation: yu-zhê-ree • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass
Meaning: 1. Lending money at an exorbitant or illegal rate of interest. 2. The exorbitantly high interest on a loan.
Notes: As governments around the world return to the regulation of financial institutions after their collapse in 2008, today's Good Word is a good word to keep in mind. Although bank rates are low today, some credit card rates are high enough for some to think them already usurious (the adjective for today's word). Someone who practices usury is a usurer unless they do so privately, in which case they are a loan shark and the interest on their loans, usually figured weekly if not daily, is vigorish.
In Play: Today's Good Word has such a narrow meaning, it is almost impossible to use it figuratively. The range of its meaning is generally limited to lending: "I asked Morris Bedda to loan me $5 and he said he would if I agreed to repay him $10 next week. That's usury!" We may, however, stray a short distance from the purely financial sense of today's word: "Favors from Senator Fogbottom have to be repaid with such usury his fellow senators seldom turn to him for help."
Word History: English borrowed this word from Old French usure "usury", a word inherited from Latin usura "use, the use of money lent or the fee for that use (interest)". English apparently added the suffix -y for heaven knows what reason. Latin usura was derived from the verb utor "to use", specifically from its past participle usus "has used" plus the noun-forming suffix -ura. The noun suffix is quite common in Latin; we see it in many other words English has borrowed, usually after French has replaced the final A with an E: cultura, captura, and textura, from the verb texere "to weave". (Our gratitude today is owed our South African friend, Chris Stewart, who hasn't a usurious inclination about him.)