• fracas •
fræ-kês, fray-kês • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A fight, scuffle, or loud argument.
Notes: We need to remember a couple of things about this word. First, there is no K in its spelling. If it were an original English word it would need the digraph CK for the [k] sound. Second, in pluralizing it, we need to insert an E between the Ss: fracases. With these two notes in mind, we should have no problem using today's Good Word.
In Play: A fracas is first and foremost a fight: "Rather than starting a fracas when the motorcyclists insulted him, Gerald simply left the diner and 'accidentally' backed over the row of bikes outside as he drove his tractor-trailer away." It has been extended, however, to cover loud, raucous arguments where tempers flare: "A fracas broke out at the office meeting when the boss asked Marsha Lartz to get him a cup of coffee."
Word History: French borrowed fracas from Itallian fracasso "fracas", the noun from fracassare "to smash, shatter". This verb was derived from Latin fractus "broken", the past participle of frangere "to break", a verb with a notorious Fickle N. We see it in the infinitive frangere but not in the derived adjective fragilis "breakable", the origin of fragile. Notice that English also borrowed fracture and infraction, two other words based on the N-less past participle fractus. (Let's all thank Eric Berntsen without any fracas for suggesting today's Good Word.)
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