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: This Good Word came from Old French acerteiner "to assure, certify", made up of a(d) "up to" + certain "certain". We suppose that there was a Vulgar (Street) Latin word certanus that must have intervened between Old French and Latin certus "sure, fixed, settled, determined", but we have no proof. Vulgar Latin was only spoken, after all. Certus was originally the past participle of cernere "to distinguish, decide". The original PIE word was apparently critos, which underwent metathesis when the R and I traded places. This explains how certus can be related to Greek krites "judge", the origin of English critic. (Having ascertained that Jorge Mejía suggested today's Good Word, we now express our gratitude to him for doing so.)

Dr. Goodword,

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