Printable Version
Pronunciation: æ-gê-nis-tik Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Confrontational, combative, competitive, conflictive, related to a struggle between two opposing forces. 2. Related to ancient Greek athletic competitions. 3. Argumentative, polemical.

Notes: This adjective comes from the noun agonist "someone who opposes, an adversary". We may distinguish agonists: a protagonist is a good contender and an antagonist is a bad one. We may add the semantically empty suffix -al, if we need an extra syllable, agonistical, but we must insert it in the adverb: agonistically. The singular noun agonistics refers to athletic competition or confrontational debating. Agony may refer to an intensely violent struggle, particularly the one that precedes death ('mortal agony').

In Play: This word began its life referring to competitive athletic games in Greece: "Henny Peckham doesn't like most sports because they are agonistic." The reference then moved to debating, another competitive activity: "We'll never make any progress so long as the staff is so agonistic. We need more teamwork."

Word History: English borrowed today's Good Word from the Latin version of Greek agonistikos, the adjective for agonistes "dramatic hero, one who struggles". This word was based on agonia "struggle for victory", especially in athletic games, but also a mental struggle. English borrowed this word as agony. Agonia came from agon "assembly", especially the spectators at athletic games, where the meaning slipped to "a contest", then expanded to "any struggle or trial". This noun came from the verb agein "put in motion, move", which Greek inherited from PIE ag- "to drive, cause to move". Latin changed little in this root for its verb agere "to do, drive". English borrowed words made from both of this verb's participles. From the present participle agen(t)s "doing, driving" it procured agent and agendum, and from various words made from past participle, actus "done, driven", English borrowed act, actual, and actor.

Dr. Goodword,

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