Printable Version
Pronunciation: æ-spêrs Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: 1. To spatter, sprinkle, especially with holy water. 2. To bespatter, slander, defame, attack the integrity or reputation of someone.

Notes: We often her the action noun of this verb, aspersion, because it occurs in the idiom 'to cast aspersions'. Someone known for casting aspersions is an asperser who, by definition, is aspersive. An aspergillum is a handheld holy water sprinkler and an aspersorium in a decorative holder for one of these.

In Play: This word is for some reason closely associated with the activities of the clergy despite a much wider range of applications: "Overnight the dew had aspersed itself over the entire garden and twinkled in the morning sun." How the second sense became so negative is anyone's guess: "Clive jumped up and began defending the woman whose character had so shamelessly been aspersed."

Word History: Today's Good Word started out as the past participle, aspersus, of Latin aspergere, comprising ad (up) to + the combining form of spargere "to strew". The preposition-prefix ad was the same in PIE, ad "to, at, near", but it was also the source of English at, Spanish a "to, at, by", and French à "at, to, in". The root sparg- came from a suffixed form of PIE sper-/spor- "to strew" which, with or without different suffixes, became English spread, sprawl, sprinkle and spray, and German spritzen "to spray" and spritzer "wine diluted with seltzer water". We also see it in ancient Greek speirein "to strew, spray", in Danish sprde "brittle, crisp", and Afrikaans spraa "spray". (Newcomer Scott Berthel pulled today's anxious Good Word away from the cliff of oblivion and sent it to us for preservation.)

Dr. Goodword,

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