Printable Version
Pronunciation: ê-lay Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: To reduce the intensity or severity of something, as to allay suffering or to allay the effects of a fire.

Notes: The major pitfall associated with today's Good Word is the tendency to confuse it with abate. The latter verb is intransitive, which means it allows no direct object (you can't abate anything). If you allay a pain, the pain abates. Near synonyms include alleviate "to lighten", mitigate "to moderate, lessen", palliate "to relieve the symptoms or effects of".

In Play: Whatever we allay must be intense to begin with: "Gretchen said that only a new Rolls-Royce would allay the nervous stress of wrecking her BMW." Fears often need allaying: "Walter, you don't allay my fears by telling me you lost your report card."

Word History: What a rarity: a word that originates in English! Today's Good Word is simply the verb lay with an old intensifier prefix a-, the implication being roughly "to lay aside". Lay comes from PIE legh- "lie, lay" which also devolved into German legen "lay", Russian lezhat' "lie", and many similar verbs found in the Indo-European languages. As this word developed in English, words like litter, law (something laid down), and low were spun off along the way. (Let me allay any fears that I might forget to thank Lee Blue for suggesting today's Good Word by saying, "Thank you," right now.)

Dr. Goodword,

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