• nugatory •
nyu-gê-to-ri • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Trifling, inconsequential, insignificant, as 'a nugatory comment'. 2. Inoperative, inapplicable, invalid, unenforced, as 'nugatory law'.
Notes: Today's word is an adjective from nugator "empty-headed or frivolous person". The abstract noun for our adjective today is nugatoriness and a more arcane word for "a triviality"—should you ever need one—is a nugation.
In Play: The first sense of today's word is "trigfling, insignificant": "The figures in my personal budget are nugatory." The second meaning is "invalid" to the extent of even being nonexistent: "Traffic laws—and many others—are nugatory for well-known and well-to-do figures in the county."
Word History: The English word comes from Latin nugatorius "worthless, trifling, futile", still visible in Spanish nugatorio and Portuguese nugatóorio. This word is based on nugator "jester, trifler, braggart", a noun based on nugatus "trifled, joked", the past participle of nugari "to trifle, jest, play the fool", a verb based on nugae "jokes, jests, trifles". But this is where the trail ends for today's Good Word and it becomes a word of unknown origin. Nugae in early Latin was naugae (plural) with an odd nominative singular: nux. Now, nux appeared in classical Latin meaning "nut". Could nugatorius have originally meant "nutty" as nutty does in English slang? I've always wondered how nuts came to be associated with craziness and humor and I can't make the connection here, either. (Our gratitude today is due Gordon Wray, a member of the Agora, who has been a regular contributor of unnugatory Good Words there for eight years.)
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