Printable Version
Pronunciation: æg-nah-stik Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective, noun

Meaning: 1. Of the opinion it is not possible to know whether God exists, unconcerned about the existence of God, neither believing or disbelieving. 2. Not having an opinion about something, not caring one way or the other. 3. (Noun) A person who shares such an attitude.

Notes: We may add the empty suffix -al to this adjective without affecting the meaning, agnostical. We must add -al before the adverb ending -ly, agnostically, even though it isn't pronounced [æg-nah-stik-li]. This is an adjective based on the noun agnosia "lack of knowledge, ignorance". Agnoiology is the study of ignorance, for which a huge and ever-growing body of evidence is reported every day in the news.

In Play: This word is probably used more as a noun than an adjective: "My mother was an atheist and my father a deeply faithful Christian, so I had to be an agnostic." It may be used in the sense of having no opinion on any issue: "I think the president is agnostic on whether we should expand the company or buy back stock with the tax money we're saving this year."

Word History: Today's Good Word was apparently coined by T. H. Huxley in September 1869 as an antonym for gnostic "having knowledge (of spiritual matters)". If true, Huxley merely added a-, the Greek negative prefix meaning "no, not", to gnostic. This word comes from Greek gnostikos "known", based on the noun gnosis "knowledge", which is used in English in the sense of intuitive knowledge of spiritual truth, such as the Gnostics claimed to have. Gnosticism was a 2nd and 3rd century philosophy advocating gnosis as a sufficient substitute for religion, considered heresy by the Church. Gnosis comes from the root of the verb gignoskein "to know", gno-, which comes from the same PIE root as English know and noble. The latter goes back to the days when only the nobility could afford an education. (Today we owe our gratitude to our old friend, William Hupy, who recommended agnostic as a Good Word last year.)

Dr. Goodword,

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