Printable Version
Pronunciation: pet-rê-fai Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: 1. (Transitive) Change into stone or make hard, or (intransitive) to become stone or hard. 2. To make stiff, rigid from extreme fear.

Notes: Today's verb comes with a large extended family. The action noun is petrification and the personal noun is petrifier. We may also use the participles as adjectives: petrifying and petrified. Rarer adjectives are petrifactive "causing petrifaction". Anything that may be petrified is petrifiable. Petrescent "becoming stone" is a first cousin.

In Play: The basic meaning of today's word is "to turn into stone": "The Petrified Forest National Park features entire tree trunks that have been petrified over the ages." However, it is metaphorically used to indicate extreme fear: "The first time I went through a car wash inside the car, I was petrified."

Word History: petrified treeToday's Good Word was borrowed from Middle French pétrifier "to make or become stone", a verb based on the Latin noun petra "rock, crag" + -ficare, the combining form of facere "to make, do". Facere goes back to PIE root dhe-/dho "to set, put", an origin it shares with English do and German tun. Latin apparently borrowed petra from Greek pétra. Greek also had a masculine noun, pétros "rock, stone", which served as a man's name, Peter. Jesus' disciple bore this Greek name, which is why Jesus claimed that Peter would be the rock upon which His church would be built. This is also why the Roman Catholic Pope claims to be the sole successor to Saint Peter. (Let's not petrify Jackie Strauss of Philadelphia, a frequent contributor to this series, by forgetting to thank her for today's richly historical Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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