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arrears

Printable Version
Pronunciation: ê-reerz Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, plural

Meaning: A past due debt.

Notes: Today's Good Word has become what linguists call a 'pluralis tantum' "always plural" noun, like pliers, scissors and spectacles. The adverb and singular noun, arrear, is no longer used, though a derivation of this word, arrearage, is still lurking in the shadows of sophisticated English.

In Play: This word is most often encountered in the phrase 'in arrears': "Reginald's gambling put him in arrears on his car loan payments, so it was repossessed." However, it may be used outside this phrase: "Tomsky's salary was garnisheed for his tax arrears, which had accumulated since his decision not to pay that portion of his taxes that goes to the Defense Department."

Word History: Today's word came to Middle English as arrere "behind, backward" from Anglo-French arere. French inherited this word from the Latin adverbial phrase ad retro "backward", consisting of ad "(up) to, toward" + retro "backwards". Retro is composed of re- "back, backwards" + -tro, a suffix forming adverbs, also found in intro "to the inside". Re- may have come from a metathetical variant of Proto-Indo-European wert- "to turn", which is to say wret-, but no one is sure. (We do not want to fall in arrears with our gratitude to Pauline Rodwell for recommending today's Good Word, so let's thank her now.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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