• parasite •
pæ-rê-sait • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. An organism that depends on a host for its own survival, contributing nothing to the host. 2. A person who lives at the expense of another person or other people without contributing anything in return, a sponger, a free-loader.
Notes: Today's questionable word has a fine, healthy family. The adjective is parasitic, the adverb, parasitically. The practice of living at the expense of others is parasitism and, if you do so, you parasitize your host. Remember that this word begins with the Greek prefix para- and, hence, has two [a]s, not an [a] and an [o].
In Play: Parasites are usually considered a plague: "Coach Jim Nasiem's brother-in-law is a parasite who can't find a job and has been living off Jim for three months, now." Mistletoe, a botanical (semi)parasite that lives on trees, is an exception to this rule, especially around Christmas and New Year.
Word History: This Good Word began as the respectable Greek word parasitos "dinner guest" from para "beside" + sitos "grain, meal", someone who sits next to you at table. However, around 400 BC, Greek comedy began featuring rude, sniveling dinner guests who were hard to get rid of. At this point the word began to take on the sense of "freeloader", a dinner guest who wears out his welcome. The Romans borrowed the word, like so many things Greek, as their word parasitus. Roman comedies often featured them as free-loaders. As the word trickled down to French, its meaning broadened even more to what it is today. From Greek to Latin, from Latin to French, from French to English, and there you have it: from dinner guest to parasite!
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