Printable Version
Pronunciation: pe-rish Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, intransitive

Meaning: 1. To die, especially in a violent, untimely way. 2. (British) To spoil, rot, or decay. 3. Approaching death from cold or hunger (often used hyperbolically).

Notes: Today's Good Word has no derivations other than the regular Germanic forms, such as the present participle, perishing, which serves as noun and adjective. Perishable is one glaring exception, an adjective that should not exist. The suffix -able is a passive suffix that should attach only to transitive verbs, verbs can be passivized. If you can break a lamp, it's the lamp that is breakable. Since we can't perish fruit, fruit should not be perishable. Yet we have today's word, plus suitable, changeable, and workable that break this, obviously breakable, rule.

In Play: This word is most frequently used to refer to tragic deaths. In order to avoid that usage, I will only supply a figurative use: "All hope of changing the behavior of the legislators perished in the new elections." Down South you might hear people say things like this: "I'm going to perish if you don't stop the car so I can eat." It is used there (and elsewhere) in the sense of "famish". A common mantra in academia is "publish or perish". Then we have the purely idiomatic expression, "Perish the thought!"

Word History: Perish is the stem of Old French perir, periss- "to perish", extended by the English suffix -ish. The Old French verb devolved from Latin perire comprising per "through" + ire "to go". Per became a preposition in most of the Indo-European languages: Greek peri "around", seen in the English borrowing periscope, a 'see-around', Russian pere-"across, through", and English for and fore, seen mostly as a combining term in such words as before, forefront, but Fore!, the golfing warning for players in front of you when you tee off. The same PIE word that became ire in Latin, came to be idti "to go, come" in Russian, Greek eimi "I go", Irish bothar "road" (from bou-itro- "cow's way"), Sanskrit e'ti "goes", and Lithuanian eiti "to go". The word ion "charged atom" was introduced in 1834 by the British physicist Michael Faraday. It is a straightforward adaptation of the Greek word, the neuter present participle of ienai "to go". (We hope the stream of ideas for Good Words like today's, from Diane Lyons, don't perish any time soon.)

Dr. Goodword,

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