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Pronunciation: dai-êr Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Extremely severe or serious, dreadful, dismal, urgently requiring immediate attention.

Notes: The comparative degrees of this adjective are expressed by direr and direst according to the leading dictionaries. However, since the adjectival degrees are currently in a state of flux, we may hear more dire and most dire. The adverb is direly and the noun, direness.

In Play: Circumstances, situations, and straits are most often dire: "Myrtle found herself in dire straits when no one invited her to the high school prom." Many related states and other things may be dire: "The dire predictions of Earth's climate seem to have awakened a growing number of politicians and businessmen."

Word History: Today's Good Word is an English revision of Latin dirus "ominous, fearful, awful", which is a suffixed form of PIE dwe- "to fear, fearful", source also of Greek deidein "to fear" and deimos "fear", and Sanskrit dvesti "to hate, be hostile toward". The PIE word may be a variant of dwo- "two", which led to "doubt", as expressed in the German word Zweifel "doubt" and doubt itself. It is easy to see how the meaning of dwo- could intensify and move toward "fear" and "hate" from the sense of "doubt". This is all we know about the origin of dire. (Today our gratitude and congratulations are due William Hupy, contributor of more than 150 excellent Good Words like today's since 2006.)

Dr. Goodword,

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