• holocaust •
ho-lê-kawst • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. Massive destruction, especially genocide and ethnic cleansing, such as Hitler's attempt in WWII to eradicate Jews and other peoples and political beliefs. 2. A sacrifice that is completely consumed by fire, wholly burnt.
Notes: Here is a huge word that has come a long way since the Greeks created it. It comes with two adjectives: holocaustal and holocaustic. For more on holocaust, go here.
In Play: This is far from a playful word, so it is often associated with nuclear war: "In the 1960s fear of a nuclear holocaust drove thousands of Americans to build bomb shelters in their backyards." When referring to the genocide of WWII this word is usually capitalized: "The Diary of Anne Frank describes the daily life of a young Dutch girl before she perished in the Holocaust."
Word History: Today's Good Word was borrowed from Old French holocauste, inherited from Late Latin holocaustum, borrowed from Greek holokauston "something wholly burnt". This noun is just the noun usage of the neuter of holokaustos "burned whole", comprising holos "whole" + kaustos, the past participle of kaiein "to burn", also the source of caustic. Holos came to Greek from PIE solê- "whole, well-kept". In Greek PIE [s] was replace by [h] before certain vowels. It is not in Latin, where solê- became salvus "safe" and salvare "to save", the ultimate origin of English save, salvation and salvage. Latin also kept the original root for its solus "only, single, sole", which English borrowed, via French, as sole. We can also see it in solitaire, a more obviously French creation. (We now thank William Hupy, our prolific long-time friend, for suggesting today's heavily endowed Good Word,)
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