• despair •
di-sper • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (No plural)
Meaning: Loss or absence of all hope.
Notes: Despair is the antonym of hope, the absence of hope. It comes with a large lexical family. It alone may be used as a verb, as 'to despair of something'. The adjectives are despairing, but also desperate. The spelling difference in the latter lays the groundwork for desperation, the state of being desperate. Another, rarer, adjective is despairful, with its predictable adverb, despairfully.
In Play: This word is a hard one to play with: "Vi Carius writes poetry to keep from falling into a pit of deep despair." All the happy uses of this word refer to relief from it: "The recent announcement of an 8.5% increase in the median income over the past two years was a relief for some of the middle-class despair."
Word History: This word comes from Old French desperer "be dismayed, despair" from Latin desperare "to despair", made up of de- "without" + sperare "to hope". Latin sperare is based on spes, (Plural) speres "hope". Latin obtained this word from Proto-Indo-European spe- "to thrive, prosper" with an -r suffix. We see the R in English prosper, borrowed from Latin prosperus "favorable, prosperous" from pro "according to + sper- "hope". With a -d suffix, it entered Old English as sped "success". By the time this word made it to Modern English it was today's speed. (Lest we cause Paul Stayert any despair, let's thank him here and now for his recommendation of today's hopelessly Good Word.)
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