Printable Version
Pronunciation: æl-tru-i-zêm Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: 1. Helping others out of the unselfish goodness of one's heart, doing good without ulterior motivation. 2. (Biology) Behavior among organisms that is disadvantageous to the individual but contributes to the survival of the species.

Notes: It is a sad commentary on contemporary US life that this word has acquired a slightly pejorative tinge. Let's hope that it is not on its way to join do-gooder as a derogatory reference to goodness. The wonderful people who are motivated by altruism are altruists and the adjective is altruistic. If you wish to spend a little more time uttering this word, you may add the suffix -al to the end of the adjective, altruistical, but you must add it to make the adverb, altruistically.

In Play: This word today is jeered mostly in the upper management spaces of corporate America: "None of the altruism in the workplace at Enron and Tyco rose to the level of management." But Dr. Goodword thinks that it is time that we remove any tarnish from today's Good Word and again take pride in it: "Money didn't matter; Joy was motivated by simple altruism in agreeing to manage the center for the homeless."

Word History: Today's Good Word was created by simply knocking the silent E off French altruisme. French seems to have created this word by adding the suffix -(i)sme to Italian altrui "someone else's" to reflect the sense of altruism: showing concern for others rather than oneself. The Italian word comes from Latin alter "other", found in several Latin borrowings, such as alternate and alter ego, someone else who shares your thinking. The root behind alter showed up in English as else. In Greek we see it in allos "other", which went into the making of allegory from allos "other" + agora "marketplace". (Which reminds me: have you visited the Alpha Agora lately, our marketplace for ideas about words?)

Dr. Goodword,

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