• justify •
jês-tê-fai • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb
Meaning: 1. To prove reasonable, correct or just. 2. To be reasonable, correct or just. 3. (Printing) To make the right and left sides of a paragraph perfectly parallel with the margins.
Notes: Here is a term originally befitting debates and argumentation that took on a radically different sense in the printing world (see Word History). It has an active adjective, justificatory, and a passive one, justifiable. The noun for it is justification. It is based on the adjective just, whose noun is justice.
In Play: The basic meaning of today's word is more at home in argumentation: "At sentencing, the man convicted of murdering his parents tried to justify his plea for mercy with the fact that he was an orphan." In printing it is used this way: "Some editors believe that justifying a text produces excessive hyphenation."
Word History: Today's Good Word was borrowed from French justifier "to justify, account for", inherited from Late Latin iustificare "act justly toward; make just". This verb is based on iustificus "that acts justly", from iustus "just" + combining form of facere "to make, to do". Latin created justus from PIE yewes-/yewos- "law, right". This PIE word made its greatest impression on Latin. We only find Old Irish huisse "right" and Sanskrit yoh "hail" in other Indo-European languages. This word underwent rhotacization (where [s] becomes [r]), so we find jurare "to swear (an oath)", whence French jurée "oath" and juriste "legal expert", upon which English jury and jurist are based. The sense of "make consistent" arose in the 16th century. It applied to globes, thicknesses, molds, etc., according to the examples in the Oxford English Dictionary. The meaning narrowed to the current third sense around the turn of the 20th century. (Gratitude is now due newcomer Barbara Beeton for suggesting today's Good Word with the odd semantic twist.)
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