• febrile •
fe-brêl, fee-brêl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Feverish, having a fever. 2. Agitated, overactive, passionate, feverish.
Notes: The medical world has provided us with a plethora of words based on the root of today's Good Word, febr-. The noun indicating a febrile state is febrility. Something that causes fever is febrifacient, while a febrifugal medication is one that chases fever away. February comes from the Latin februarius mensis "month of purification", from februum "purification". Although most etymologists are hesitant to draw a parallel with febris, purification by fire is not uncommon around the world.
In Play: You will encounter this word most frequently in medical contexts: "The patient was brought to the hospital in a febrile condition," which is to say, with a fever. Of course, we will be able to find situations outside the hospital where this word fits in its figurative sense: "Percival finally broke through the writer's block in one night of febrile writing in which he completed the book."
Word History: Today's word comes from Latin febrilis, the adjective for febris "fever". The Latin word was adopted and adapted by most Germanic languages, resulting in English fever, and Swedish and Danish feber. Febris goes back to the Proto-Indo-European root bhreu- "boil, bubble", with a reduplication of the initial [bh] resulting in an [f] sound in the first [bh] but not the second. The original PIE root resulted in the English words bread, brew, and brown, not to mention the German words braten "roast" and brennen "burn". In English this stem was subject to metathesis, the process by which the R switches places with the vowel following it. This process led to the English verb burn as well as the Scots English noun burn "spring, (bubbling) brook". (Today's hot little Good Word comes from a suggestion by Norman Levin, to whom Dr. Goodword respectfully tips his hat.)
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