Printable Version
Pronunciation: æs-sêr-tayn Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: To learn with certainty through careful examination of evidence or experimentation.

Notes: I love words with other words hidden by history in them, like atonement, which has the phrase at one hidden in it, and disease that contains ease. Today's Good Word contains certain, though most of us, I would guess, use this word unaware of its contents. This word has two derivatives that are readily accessible: ascertainable, an adjective, and ascertainment, a noun.

In Play: Today's Good Word means to learn with certainty based in proof: "I have ascertained from your several e-mail messages that you are you are displeased with the way I do my job." It is just as easy to find uses around the house for this word as around the office: "I ascertain from the tone of your voice that you wish me to clean my room right away." Won't your parents be pleased that you know how to employ this word correctly?

Word History: Today's Good Word comprises asa "gum, mastic" + fetida "stinky". Asa is a Latinized form of Old Persian aza "gum, mastic", so they say. I could not verify this in any Persian dictionary, and I don't know Persian myself. The history of fetida is hardly less hazy. Some etymologists have speculated that the origin of this word is the same as that of fimum "dung" and fumus "smoke". If so, the PIE ancestor is dheu- "smoke, dust", source also of Sanskrit dhumah "smoke", Russian dym "smoke", Lithuanian dūmai "smoke", Latvian dūksts "quagmire, swamp". The semantic connection between "smoke" and "stink" makes this origin quite possible, but the phonetic problems remain. (Now, a round of applause for returning newcomer Susan Maynard for today's worthy medicinal and culinary Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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