Podcast aggravate

Printable Version
Pronunciation: æ-grê-vayt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: 1. To make heavy or heavier, to load, burden, as to be aggravated with the responsibilities of someone else's office. 2. To increase the gravity of, to make worse, exacerbate. 3. To annoy.

Notes: The word aggravate has been a bone of contention for centuries because of its meaning (see In Play). Its forms, however, are very straightforward. The abstract noun is aggravation while the agent noun is aggravator (remember the ending is -or and not -er). There is also an adjective, aggravative, meaning the same as aggravating, as an aggravative zipper that sticks all the time.

In Play: I recall being told in grammar school (as we called it then) that aggravate can only mean "make worse" and not simply "annoy", as in "This zipper aggravates me when it sticks like this." My teachers didn't know, however, that the word had borne both meanings since the 17th century and, moreover, the original Latin verb, aggravare, could be used in both senses as well (see Word History). So feel as free to say that the sticking zipper aggravates you to no end as you would to say, "Jerking it like that when it sticks only aggravates (makes worse) the problem."

Word History: Today's word is taken from the past participle (aggravatus) of the Latin verb aggravare "to make heavier or worse." This verb is made up of ad "to" + gravare "to burden", based on the root gravis "heavy". We see this stem in many English words borrowed from Latin, such as grave "serious" and gravity. This word also devolved into Old French grever "to harm", which English borrowed as grieve which also gave us grief. The Proto-Indo-European root that gave rise to gravis also went on to become guru "heavy, serious, venerable" in Sanskrit, the ancestor language of Hindi, whence English borrowed the word when India was a colony.

Dr. Goodword,

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