• nemesis •
nem-ê-sis • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. An undefeatable archenemy, an unconquerable opponent. 2. A danger or threat to well-being. 3. Retribution, revenge, punishment.
Notes: English words ending on -is [is] form their plurals by replacing this suffix with -es [eez], so the plural of today's word is nemeses. Similar words include basis, crisis, and analysis. This word is another lexical orphan. Nemesism "aggression turned against oneself" enjoyed a brief existence in the psychology of the 40s and 50s but, like so many of us, didn't survive the 60s.
In Play: Mystery lovers will recall Moriarty, the archcriminal who was the nemesis of Sherlock Holmes. Agatha Christie's last novel around the character of Miss Marple was called Nemesis, a title taken from a comment of a character in a previous novel who saw her as an indefatigable enemy and avenger of murder. It was inevitable that someone would name a chocolate dessert 'chocolate nemesis', since the urge for chocolate is undefeatable, it is a threat to your well-being, and will punish you with weight gain if you surrender to its temptation.
Word History: This word comes from the Greek nemesis "indignation, retribution", also the name of the Greek goddess of retribution, Nemesis. The noun comes from the verb nemein "to allot", related to German nehmen "take" and Old English niman "to seize, take". Although the Old English word didn't make it through to us, we see remnants of it in nimble and numb. The former originally meant "quick to seize", while the latter was the past participle of niman, meaning "taken, seized", as by a cold or other disease. (Today we are grateful that an old friend, Dr. Lyn Laboriel, was seized by the urge to suggest today's haunting word.)