• gravamen •
grê-vay-mên • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. The main point of a grievance or accusation, the critical part of an accusation, the heart of a grievance. 2. (Rare) A formal complaint or accusation.
Notes: No, this isn't a fancy alternative to gravedigger. It is taken directly from Latin, so has two plural forms: gravamina or, in the US, gravamens. In the 17th and 18th century writers tried to introduce a related adjective, gravaminous, but it didn't catch on.
In Play: Today's word isn't widely used to refer to the grievance as a whole, but just the core of a grievance: "The gravamen of the complaints against the salesman was his hostile attitude toward customers." A gravamen need not be mentioned in the charges: "The real, unspoken gravamen of the charges brought against the professor was the way he dressed for class."
Word History: Today's Good Word, as mentioned above, is taken directly from Medieval Latin gravamen "injury, accusation", based on Classical Latin gravare "to burden". This verb is based on gravis "heavy", which underlies many Latin words borrowed by English: gravity, gravitas, aggravate, and grave, the adjective. The English noun grave came through the old Germanic languages and ended up with the same pronunciation and spelling as the adjective. Sanskrit guru "heavy, serious, venerable" comes from the same root. Finally, English grieve was borrowed from Old French grever "to harm", the direct descendant of Latin gravare. (Time now to thank Sue Gold, an old friend of Dr. Goodword and Lexiteria, for recommending today's exceptionally Good Word.)
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