Printable Version
Pronunciation: ê-rai Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective, Adverb

Meaning: 1. Crooked(ly), not direct or straight, askew, agley. 2. Wrong, amiss, not correct(ly).

Notes: Today's Good Word is one of those adjective-adverbs in English that begin with the prefix a-, such as askew, aboard, adrift and abloom. They are made from nouns or verbs and may only be used in predicate position as adjectives, that is, we may say, "His hat is awry" but we may not refer to it as an "awry hat". We may also not make nouns from them (awryness is out).

In Play: In its literal sense this word refers to something crooked or twisted: "Everyone knew that something had gone awry with the project when the chief arrived at the meeting with his clothes all awry." However, this idea extends easily to things abstract: "Your thinking is all awry when you say that you can leap over 100 cars on your motorcycle," Ernest said with a wry smile.

Word History: Today's Good Word is a good old English word, not borrowed from anywhere. It is made up of an old prepositional variant of on, a(n) + wry "crooked, twisted", the old verb wry "to twist or turn" used as an adjective. It makes sense that an even slightly bent sense of humor is also called "wry". Wry came from Old English wrigian "to turn, bend, move", the diminutive of which came to be wriggle and wiggle. If we go back further, we find the same Proto-Indo-European root that underlies our recent Good Word vertiginous and the words it is related to. Versus is simply the Latin adjective versus "turned toward or against". (Let's not let things go awry here and forget to thank Jim Achtymichuk for suggesting today's Good Word in the Alpha Agora.)

Dr. Goodword,

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