• acerbate •
æs-êr-bayt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, transitive
Meaning: 1. Make sour or bitter. 2. To embitter, irritate, vex.
Notes: Today's Good Word is derived from an archaic adjective, acerb, now more often encountered as acerbic "bitter, sharp". This word is related to acrid "bitterly pungent" and, of course, we may add the prefix ex- to get exacerbate "aggravate, make worse".
In Play: The original meaning of acerbate has fallen into disuse, so that we read only the figurative meaning today: "Fauntleroy's attitude acerbated his mother to the point she had to speak out." Do not confuse today's Good Word with exacerbate: "Gwendolyn's tattoos acerbated her brother, a state only exacerbated by her nose rings."
Word History: This word started out as acerbatus "made bitter", the past participle of Latin acerbare "to make bitter", a verb based on the adjective acerbus "bitter". The root of this adjective was inherited by Latin from Proto-Indo-European ak- "sharp", which we also find in Latin acus "needle". This word underlies the English borrowings acute and acuity. In Greek we find akis "needle", akme "point" (source of English acme), and akros "high", found in the borrowed word acrobat, from Greek acro "high" + bat, from bainein "to walk". Apparently the first acrobats were tight-rope walkers. English inherited this root through its Germanic ancestors as Old English æhher "spike, ear (of grain)", which merged with ear in Modern English, the thing we hear with.
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