Printable Version
Pronunciation: hir-say Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)

Meaning: Information received from others which cannot be substantiated (disallowed in court); rumor, gossip.

Notes: Hearsay is another compound noun with the typical feature haunting most compounds—it has no lexical relatives. It does have a specific legal meaning that precludes it as evidence in the courts; it is an unsubstantiated and therefore unprovable report.

In Play: Hearsay has a specific meaning that disqualifies its use in court and congressional hearings: "If you won't reveal your source, then all you are telling us is just hearsay." However, it is useful around the house, too: "But mom, you only have Billy's opinion that I broke the lamp; that's just hearsay!"

Word History: Today's Good Word is a compound noun made up of two verbs, hear + say. We find evidence of hear throughout the Germanic languages: German hören, Dutch horen, and Danish høren. They all go back to PIE kous- "hear", which pops up in Greek akouein "to hear", whence akoustikos "related to hearing", which English borrowed for its acoustic. Cousins of say are also present in all Germanic languages: German sagen, Dutch zeggen, and Danish sige. It comes from PIE sekw-/sokw- "say", source also of Lithuanian sakyti "to say, tell". (George Kovac reminded me that William Hupy had recommended this word back in 2014. I'm sure we are grateful to them both for their contributions. These days it is quite a topical word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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