Printable Version
Pronunciation: fê-ren-ziks Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: 1. Formal public debate or the study of debate; public speaking. 2. The application of technology to validate evidence in court proceedings.

Notes: The noun forensics is a relative newcomer to the lexical scene, still not found in most English dictionaries. Like linguistics, ethics, and economics, it is formed by adding a very busy suffix, -s, to the underlying adjective containing the suffix -ic, in this case forensic. Like all adjectives ending on the suffix -ic (except publicly), we must add -al to this stem before the adverb suffix -ly: forensically. (Who knows why.)

In Play: Forensic police work has been a popular subject of US TV shows from Quincy in the 70s to the current multiple CSI (crime scene investigation) series: "Luther worked in the county forensics lab until he began to go bald and occasionally analyze hair from his own head in place of evidentiary locks." This word, however, still retains its original meaning (No. 1 above): "Many Americans would like to see their presidential candidates engage in more forensics and fewer personal attacks."

Word History: Today's Good Word comes from Latin forensis "public, related to a forum". Forum began in Latin meaning "market", hence the drift to "public debate", since these debates in Roman times usually took place in the marketplace. The root of this word goes back to Proto-Indo-European dwor-/dwer- "door", also the origin of English door and Russian dver. The sounds [dh] and [bh] regularly became [f] at the beginning of Latin words. The Greek word for door was thura, from the same source. Latin foris "outside", containing the same root, underlies our forest and foreign, both borrowed from French after that language added its own flavorings. (There is no debate over whether we should thank Katherine Enderle for suggesting we take today's Good Word public.)

Dr. Goodword,

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