Podcast cacoethes

Printable Version
Pronunciation: kæ-ko-ee-theez Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A persistent disease. 2. A bad habit, an insatiable desire or mania, an unscratchable 'itch' to do something.

Notes: Today's Good Word has just barely made it into English; in fact, you will still encounter it spelled cacoëthes. You can ignore the dieresis, though; it is no longer necessary. This odd little word has an adjective, cacoethetic. The plural? Same as the singular.

In Play: The desire to write is often thought of as a sickness: "Yes, if Rhoda Book's talent was as strong as her cacoethes for writing, she would have won a Pullet Surprise by now." But any desire that borders on a sickness qualifies as a cacoethes: "Wiley Driver has a cacoethes for collecting old cars that even surpasses his love of golf."

Word History: Today's word (Surprise! Surprise!) was snitched from Latin cacoethes, itself all but traced from Greek kakoethes "ill-disposed". The Greek word is a compound noun comprising kakos "bad" + ethos "disposition". Greek kakos, of course, comes from original kaka "poop, feces", which you must admit is pretty bad. Ethos, which we also borrowed wholesale from Greek in the sense of "fundamental values (of a culture or nation)", comes from the Proto-Indo-European root swe- "we". Our ethos was thus originally thought of as what made us "us". (We are not sure what made Lew Jury suggest today's Good Word but we are glad he did.)

Dr. Goodword,

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