Printable Version
Pronunciation: eg-zi-sten-shêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Related in some way to (human) existence, threatening existence. 2. Defined by existentialism (see Notes). 3. Derived from experience.

Notes: Today's Good Word seems to have entered the vocabularies of all newscasters simultaneously this year (2018). It is the adjective for existence and comes with an adverb, existentially. Existentialism is a philosophical school, popular in the 60s, that focuses on the analysis of human existence (as opposed to essence), proposing that individual human beings are free agents determining what they will become by their own choices.

In Play: The usual sense in which the word is used on US TV is "threatening existence": "Harley didn't know that his decision to marry June McBride was an existential decision until he saw the pistol in her hand." It may also just refer to experience: "There is no existential evidence of life after death."

Word History: Today's Good Word was scooped up from Old French existential from Late Latin existentialis "related to existence". This adjective was based on the present participle, existen(t)s of Latin existere "stand forth, come out, emerge; appear, exist". This word is made up of ex "out of" + sistere "cause to stand" from PIE si-sta-, a reduplication of the combinative form of sta- "to stand (firm)". Prostitute, someone known to stand through the night, is a Latin borrowing comprising pro "through, forward" + statu-ere "make stand", a causative variation of stare "to stand". For prostitutes' trade, English borrowed ecstasy from Greek ekstasis "astonishment", the noun from existanai "to derange, displace", made up of ek- "out of" + istanai "to place, put", another word from PIE sta-.

Dr. Goodword,

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