Podcast contumely

Printable Version
Pronunciation: kahn-t[y]u-mi-li (UK), kên-tum-li (US) Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. Arrogant rudeness, contemptuous offensiveness. 2. A contemptuous insult, a mortifying jibe, an intentionally offensive act or remark.

Notes: Today's Good Word should be an adverb or adjective, with what seems to be a suffix, -ly, affixed to its end. Actually, that isn't a suffix but simply the coincidentally similar way in which this noun ends. However, the misperception has led many to omit the third syllable and (mis)pronounce the word as in the US pronunciation above. We should use all four syllables, however; all four make the word much more dramatic.

In Play: We cannot claim that this is a popular word any more, but it is a Good Word that we should fight to keep: "I was surprised at the contumely in her response to my comment that her new evening gown was 'nice'." Contumely is an attitude but it is also an expression of that attitude: "Contumelies, unfortunately, have become an integral part of the new TV 'reality' shows."

Word History: English borrowed this word from French, which is what is left of Latin as it was spoken in France. The Latin word was contumelia "abuse, insult, affront", made up of con "with" + tum- from tumere "to swell; become excited, violent". You are right if you hear the same root in borrowed English words like tumid "swollen, bulging" and tumor, another type of swelling. In English, a Germanic language, we find the root naming things thick or swollen, like thigh, thumb and that nice, swollen number, thousand, derived from the same original pre-Latin root.

Dr. Goodword,

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