Printable Version
Pronunciation: êr-nist Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Sincerely serious, completely committed, determined.

Notes: Here is a word that is used as a name, though spelled differently, usually Ernest. This adjective comes with an adverb, earnestly, and a noun, earnestness (earnesty is now obsolete). It is also used idiomatically as a noun in the phrase 'in earnest'. This phrase is an idiom because it can't be tampered with. If you tamper with it you have to use the active noun, 'in all earnestness'.

In Play: The most famous use of this word is in the title of The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People, actually a hilarious comedy by Oscar Wilde. But let's get earnest: "From her earnest tone, he had no doubt as to the sincerity of her question about his wealth."

Word History: In Old English today's Good Word was eornoste "zealous, serious", the adjective from the noun eornost "seriousness", that survives in the idiomatic phrase 'in earnest'. It is cousin to German Ernst and Dutch ernstig "seriousness". The Germanic languages inherited their words from the extended PIE word ernos- "soar, erupt, surge", comprising er-/or- "to set in motion, move" + -nos/-nes, a common noun suffix. We find the progeny of er-/or- in many words spread across Indo-European languages: Armenian ari "stand up!", Greek ornumi "move, excite", Latin orior "to arise", and perhaps German Reise "trip" and Lithuanian rytas "morning". (Today we earnestly thank Joakim Larsson of Sweden for today's most fascinating Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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