Printable Version
Pronunciation: ahb-jêr-gayt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: To rebuke harshly, to scold or berate offensively.

Notes: Patched and tattered clichs like chew out, cuss out, dress down, call on the carpet (and these are just the clean ones) have all but obliterated more subtly articulated terms for speaking harshly to someone. The whole panoply of Good Words, like chide, reproach, upbraid, rebuke, scold, berate, and, the best of them all, objurgate, are more often read than heard. A chide is a very mild rebuke, almost in jest. A reproach is not quite as mild though hardly harsh. If you are truly irritated, you will reproach someone, but if you feel totally justified, then you can kick it on up to an upbraiding. Finally, the ultimate degree of dressing someone down brings us to today's Good Word, objurgation (the noun).

In Play: Today's Good Word offers a way to replace a good pocketful of tired and worn out clichs with a set of words that reflects an array of subtle semantic differences: "I would hardly call it a rebuke—he objurgated the daylights out of me!" Of course, the effect of these verbs varies with whoever issues them: "I can take Dad's objurgation better than Mom's chiding me over the condition of my room."

Word History: This Good Word comes from Latin objurgare "to scold, rebuke" comprising ob- "against" and jurgare "to quarrel, sue, rebuke". Jurgare itself breaks down into jurare "to swear" (from which we get jury, injury, and jurisprudence) and the [g], which seems to come from agere "to do, act, drive". Of course, agere gave us our agent, act, and squat. "Squat?" I hear you ask. Yes, squat. This good verb comes from Middle English squatten, from Old French esquatir "to crush" (makes you wonder how Middle Englishmen cracked nuts). The French verb is made up of es-, an intensive prefix from Latin ex- "from" + quatir "to press flat". Now, here is where it gets interesting. Quatir comes from Vulgar (street) Latin coactire based on real Latin coactus. This word is the past participle of cogere "to compress" from co- "together" + agere, the same verb that accounts for the [g] in our Good Word today.

Dr. Goodword,

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