Printable Version
Pronunciation: hir-sut or hêr-sut Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Hairy, bristly, covered with hair-like bristles.

Notes: Today's Good Word has only a literal sense, and is not used in the metaphorical sense of hairy "dangerous, frightening". This means that an adverb would make no sense—what would doing something in a hairy manner mean? So today's word comes only with the rather mundane noun, hirsuteness. We may call women who are attracted to hairy men hirsutophiliacs when we don't want others to catch on.

In Play: The amount of hair required to qualify for today's adjective is relative; it usually refers to something that has relatively more hair than is normal or expected: "After years of not shaving, Santa Claus's face has become quite hirsute." On the other hand, plants that have any hair-like bristles at all may be called hirsute: "Maggie prefers hirsute plants to animals as pets since they are almost as fuzzy but require much less attention."

Word History: Today's Good Word first appeared in print in English in 1621. It was taken from Latin hirsutus "hairy, bristly," an extension of hirtus "shaggy." Where this word came from is something of an enigma for linguists. Their best guess is that it comes from the same root that produced the verb horrere "to bristle fearfully" and its noun horror "shivering, dread". If so, it goes back to a root meaning "to bristle, stick out", something the hairs on the backs of animals do when they face a horrible situation. (Today's hairy Good Word was the suggestion of Kyle McDonald, the passion and paradox of the Alpha Agora.)

Dr. Goodword,

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