Printable Version
Pronunciation: dis-têrb Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: 1. To move out of place, upset, to change the arrangement of, as to disturb the items on someone's desk. 2. To interrupt or prevent from doing something, as to disturb someone resting. 3. To upset emotionally, to agitate with bad news, to cause anxiety.

Notes: Today's Good Word is not uncommon but is interesting for its lexical relationships (see Word History). The noun is disturbance and the adjective, disturbing, as when we receive disturbing news. The person who disturbs someone is the disturber and I can think of no reason not to refer to the person disturbed as the disturbee (though my spellchecker doesn't agree).

In Play: A disturbance throws something out of kilter that was in kilter before: "Les Knott-Duit told the judge that he found it hard to believe that he could be guilty of disturbing the peace in Manhattan." This includes someone's emotional stability: "The discovery that his fence was 10 feet over on his neighbor's land disturbed Manley to the point that he consulted both a lawyer and a doctor."

Word History: Today's Good Word is the usual makeover of a Latin verb, this time Latin disturbare "to disturb" from dis- "apart" + turbare "to agitate, disrupt". The basic verb here is based on turba "tumult, confusion". This word was probably borrowed from Greek turbe, but the root is clearly related to Latin turbo, turbin-em "(spinning) top, whirlwind, whirlpool". As you can see, English raided this word for turbo and turbine, if not others. If we dig deeper, we find a root ter-/tor- "turn" that came through with various other suffixes. It reached English with a final N in turn and also emerged in Latin with a B in turbidus, which we also borrowed as turbid. (We now turn to Kathleen McCune of Norway to thank her for suggesting today's not so disturbing Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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