Printable Version
Pronunciation: fret Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: 1. Gnaw, chew, eat (said of animals). 2. (Figurative) Irritate, chafe, erode. 3. To gradually wear away by friction or corrosion of some sort. 4. To constantly worry, brood, vex yourself, be naggingly anxious over.

Notes: Today we have a rarity for English: a word that is pronounced exactly the way it is spelled. The adjective for this word is fretful. Its noun is fretfulness "quality of fretting". Otherwise, the present participle is used for adjective and noun: fretting.

In Play: The most common use of this word is in reference to nagging worry: "William Arami was terribly disconcerted the next, day, fretting to no end that June McBride would turn down his proposal." However, the third sense is still out there: "The seawater had fretted away the bank of their frontage so badly that they had to install a bulwark to repel its onslaught."

Word History: Today's Good Word was fretan "to devour" in Old English. Fretan was a reduction of Old Germanic frae- "completely" + etan "to eat", which also led to German fressen "to eat (like an animal)" and Dutch vreten "to eat (like an animal)". The prefix comes from PIE per "forward, through", which ended up in English as fore, before, and for, in German as für "for" and vor "before", in Latin as pro "before, for", in Russian as pere- "across, over, through", and in Lithuanian as per "through". Etan came from PIE ed- "eat", remnants of which we see in eat (from etan), German essen, Latin edere, Russian est' edu "I eat"), and Lithuanian esti—all meaning "to eat". (Let's not make Lynn Morris fret about our gratitude but share it with her as she has shared today's almost edible Good Word with us.)

Dr. Goodword,

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