Printable Version
Pronunciation: -lês Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Having calluses, hardened, toughened (skin), as the callous skin on the palm of our hands. 2. Emotionally hardened, hardhearted, insensitive for the feelings of others, as one who is callous to the suffering of others.

Notes: The noun callus "hardened skin" has remained closer to the Latin word it was copied from than has the adjective callous. The drift away from its original spelling was accompanied by a drift from its original meaning. Callus still means "hardened skin" while callous refers to a hardened heart. The important thing to remember is not to confuse the two. The adverb for this adjective is, unsurprisingly, callously, and the noun, callousness or, if you prefer, callosity.

In Play: Today's adjective is used almost exclusively in the figurative sense (Meaning 2): "I don't disapprove of the boss's firing Gladys Friday, but I do find informing her by e-mail rather callous." We may use this word as a synonym of the rather awkward compound hardhearted: "Harley Davidson refused to recycle in callous disregard for the environment."

Word History: I feel that today's Good Word more likely comes directly from Latin callosus "thick-skinned" than from its great-granddaughter, French calleuse, the feminine of calleux. The same root, kal-, turned up in Sanskrit as kalika "bud," in Old Irish as calath "hard," and in Old Church Slavonic as kaliti "to cool, harden". This root might be related to English hale "healthy", though most etymologists would not concur. If they are wrong, and hale does not come from another Proto-Indo-European root, it would explain why the root otherwise seems not show up in Germanic languages. (We should now thank Morty Skusting for not showing any callosity and sharing today's Good Word with us.)

Dr. Goodword,

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