Printable Version
Pronunciation: mo-rêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Related to goodness, just personal behavior, good principles, as 'moral behavior'. 2. Related to the judgment of what is right and wrong, as 'moral compass'. 3. Having psychological rather than physical effect, as 'a moral victory'.

Notes: Today's Good Word has two nouns, morality and morals. Morality refers to moral virtue, personal qualities judged to be good. Morals are the rules of good morality. It has a singular, a moral, usually referring to a moral maxim drawn from a story or event. It must be distinguished from morale by the E on the latter. The antonym of this word is immoral.

In Play: Morality refers to the discrimination of good and evil: "The president demonstrated his lack of a moral rudder when he appointed his family to official positions in the company." It may be found anywhere: "TV comedians have become the moral leaders of many viewers in the US."

Word History: Today's word is a borrowing from an Old French legacy from Latin moralis "related to manners". This word was coined by Cicero in De Fato (II.i) to translate Greek ethikos "ethics". Cicero based his word on Latin mos, moris "one's disposition", whose plural, mores, meant "habits, morals". Latin obtained its word from Proto-Indo-European me-/mo- "mind, spirit, disposition", which also went into the making of the English word mood and the German word gemütlich "cozy, relaxed, friendly", borrowed as an English word for "agreeably pleasant". (Let's now thank the gemutlich Lew Jury for recommending yet another topical Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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