Printable Version
Pronunciation: pêr-fênk-tê-ri Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Done as a formality, routinely, indifferently, just to get through a duty.

Notes: Today's Good Word represents the victor in the struggle between it, perfunctorious, and perfunctionary to convey its current sense. All its competitors lie by the wayside of history. The adverb accompanying this adjective is perfunctorily and the noun perfunctoriness. Perfunction in the sense of "perfunctoriness" is rarely encountered today.

In Play: The cashiers of almost all restaurants and cafes ask perfunctorily, "How was everything?" in expectation of an equally perfunctory "Good" or "Fine." I always reply, "So-so" or even "Terrible," just to remind them that they have asked a real question. I seldom get any response at all, since they are busy handling payment. Greetings are usually perfunctory: "Don't give me one of those perfunctory hugs, bereft of any warmth or feeling."

Word History: Today's Good Word comes from Late Latin perfunctorius "careless, negligent", from Latin perfunctus, the past participle of perfungi "to finish, get through with". This verb is made up of per "through" + fungi "to perform". The past participle of fungi is functus, the noun of which, functio(n), also underlies English function. This word seems to come from Proto-Indo-European bheug- "to enjoy". The only evidence of this claim is Latin fungi and Sanskrit bhunkte "enjoys".

Dr. Goodword,

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