Printable Version
Pronunciation: sel-ê-bê-si Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: Abstinence from marriage and the sexual relations that it implies.

Notes: Celibacy is only practiced in some churches, most notably the Catholic Church, which is now enduring worldwide scandal of priests who have been unable to sustain it. This noun is based on the adjective celibate "unmarried, abstaining from sexual relations". Someone who rejects marriage for reasons other than religion is (a) celibatarian.

In Play: Samuel Johnson claimed in Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia (1889, p. 103), that marriage has many pains, but celibacy has no pleasures. The Shakers were ultimately done in by their celibacy, a central pillar of the movement. The word itself surely invites playfulness: "Phil Anders, playboy of New Monia, Pennsylvania, claims that his attempt at celibacy was the worst 20 minutes of his life."

Word History: This history of today's Good Word is murky at best. English apparently borrowed the root of this word from Late Latin caelibatus "unmarried", based on Classical Latin caelebs "unmarried". English trimmed caelibatus down to celibate, from which the natural noun would be celibacy. Caelebs seems to have come from a PIE compound kai-leibh-s "alone-living", comprising kai- "alone" + leibh-, an inexplicable variant of leip- "to stick, persist". Kai- is only found in Sanskrit kevala- "alone, whole", but leip- gained wide usage in Indo-European languages: in Greek as liparein "to persist, persevere", in German as leben "to live", and in English as live and liver. (Another major contributor over many years, William Hupy, recommended we run today's touchy Good Word with the murky history.)

Dr. Goodword,

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