• absurd •
Pronunciation: êb-sêrd • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Wildly irrational, preposterous, outlandishly nonsensical, or ridiculously inappropriate. 2. Dealing with the absurd or absurdism, as 'the theater of the absurd'.
Notes: We have two nouns referring to ridiculous irrationality underlying today's Good Word, the clunky absurdness and one that runs more trippingly off the tongue, absurdity. Absurdism was first promoted by Albert Camus. It is the argument that we live in a chaotic universe, and trying to make sense of it is hopeless.
In Play: The fundamental sense of this word is "outlandishly ridiculous": "The very idea of powdered water is absurd. What would we add to it?" We call people absurd in referring to lesser degrees of absurdity: "Don't be absurd. June McBride would never take Phil Anders seriously."
Word History: English took this word from French absurde "absurd, outlandish", which it inherited from Latin absurdus "out of tune, absurd", comprising ab- "(away) from + surdus "deaf, out-of-tune, discordant, dull". Latin surdus is related to susurrus "a muttering, whispering", the noun from susurrare "to hum, murmur". Susurrare was built on a reduplication of the PIE word swer-/swor- "to buzz, whisper", source also of Sanskrit svarati "sounds, resounds", Greek syrinx "flute", Russian svistet' "to whistle, whish, whiz", Lithuanian švilpti "to whiz", and German schwirren "to whiz, buzz". This root emerged in English swarm and in French, Latin surdus became sourd but remains the principal word for "deaf". (It would be absurd not to express our gratitude to a major contributor of excellent Good Words like Jackie Strauss.)