• arrears •
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.)
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