• atrophy •
æ-trê-fee • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A decrease in size of muscles, organs, or other parts of the body resulting from nonuse or disease. 2. Gradual deterioration of anything, loss of effectiveness or vigor due to underuse or neglect.
Notes: Today's Good Word is often used as a verb referring to the process of atrophy, as "muscles atrophy with age". It comes with four adjectives; atrophic and atrophous are less often used than the participles, atrophied and atrophying.
In Play: This word derives from an original sense of nourishment, so its original meaning refers to muscles and organs: "Muscle atrophy has been detected in astronauts after only five days in space." However, its meaning has spread metaphorically: "Imagination can undergo atrophy if not used sufficiently."
Word History: Today's word was borrowed from French atrophie, inherited from Late Latin atrophia, borrowed again from Greek atrophia "a wasting away". Atrophia was derived from atrophos "ill-fed, undernourished" from a(n)- "not, without" + trophe "nourishment, food" from trephein "to fatten". Where Greek got this word from no one knows. It is unrelated to trophy, which English acquired from French trophée, inherited from Latin trophaeum "monument to victory", a strange variant of tropaeum. This word Latin nicked from Greek tropaion, the neuter of tropaios "pertaining to defeat", an adjective based on trope "turning (point), rout" used as a noun. English borrowed this word as trope "a turn of phrase, figure of speech" and as a combining form in such words as heliotrope "sunflower", or any flower that turns so that is always facing the sun.
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