Printable Version
Pronunciation: æd-i-æ-fê-rês Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Indifferent, neutral, immaterial. 2. (Medicine) Having no effect, doing neither harm nor good, as an adiaphorous medicine, a placebo.

Notes: The noun associated with today's adjective is adiaphory "indifference, neutrality". An object considered irrelevant to the Church or upon which the Church has made no decision as to its acceptance, was once called an adiaphoron (plural adiaphora) but the word is rarely used these days. A palliative substance is one that relieves symptoms without curing or healing. An adiaphorous one has no effect at all, positive or negative.

In Play: Although we are more likely to meet this word in the world of medicine, many things in our lives are adiaphorous: "Kaye Syrah prepared adiaphorous meals for her family, meals that were not nourishing but caused no particular harm to partakers." So long as we don't live adiaphorous lives, though, we have nothing to fear of adiaphory: "Livingstone Gray spent all his father's money on an adiaphorous life that guaranteed he would be forgotten shortly after the reading of the will."

Word History: Today's Good Word is the English makeover of Greek adiaphoros "indifferent" made up of a(n)- "un-, not" + diaphoros "different" from the verb diapherein "to differ". Diapherein comprises dia "through" + pherein "to bear". Dia comes from the same root as words for "two" in most Indo-European languages, e.g. Latin duo and English two. That is it in Latin dis- "asunder", apparently meaning originally "in two". The Greek verb meaning "to bear, carry", pherein, comes from a Proto-Indo-European verb bher- with lexical progeny that can be found in every Indo-European language: English bear and burden, Russian brat' "take" and beremennaya "pregnant", and Latin ferre, whose root we see in such borrowings as infer, defer, and confer. (Lest our attitude toward Sue Gold of Westtown School be taken as adiaphorous, let's thank her now for suggesting today's very Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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