Printable Version
Pronunciation: eg-zyum, ik-sum Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: 1. Remove a body from its grave. 2. To bring to light or broach a subject after a long period of obscurity; to resurrect.

Notes: Today's Good Word is used mostly by policemen and medical examiners who are investigating, in light of new evidence, the death of someone already buried. In doing so, they have two noun forms that they may use, the activity noun, exhumation, and the personal noun, exhumer.

In Play: Unless you are an investigator, district attorney, or medical examiner, you will probably use this word to refer to things long forgotten: "Why would anyone want to exhume the idea of bomb shelters in this day and age?" (Well, I can think of at least one reason.) Of course, you may exhume people out of stuff other than soil: "Of all the people who could have headed the board, why did they have to exhume the past president out of retirement."

Word History: Today's Good Word first appeared in print in 1783. It was taken from French, which inherited it from Latin exhumare, made up of ex "out of" + humus "earth". I'm sure you immediately noticed that English also took humus wholesale from Latin and currently uses it to refer to homemade fertilizer. The root here, hum-, seems to have originally referred to earth or dirt but also turns up in humanus "human, kind". This suggests that our earliest forefathers perceived humans as originating in the soil. I may have mentioned this before, but the same word gave Old English its word for "man", guma, which went into brydguma "suitor". When guma was replaced by man in English, brydguma underwent folk etymology, becoming bridegroom, even though a groom is a stable boy.

Dr. Goodword,

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