æ-tê-ræk-see-yê • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: Peace of mind, the absence of any anxiety or stress, total relaxation, mental tranquility.
Notes: The adjective from today's Good Word is ataractic "relaxing, tranquilizing", from the stem of ataraxia, which is really atarac-sia, since X is, in fact, a letter representing two sounds, [k] + [s]. Since [k] was spelled C in Latin, removing the suffix -sia would leave a stem of atarac- for the suffix -tic to attach to. This adjective may also be used as a noun, meaning "a relaxant, tranquilizer".
In Play: A few years ago the sister of today's contributor, Maureen Koplow, saw a sign on a utility pole asking that we "advocate ataraxia". We hope ataraxia did not prevent her from suggesting it to us over the years. Ataraxia is a state most of us only dream of but, hopefully, some of us will make it: "Gladys Dunn felt herself moving closer and closer to absolute ataraxia as the day of her retirement approached."
Word History: This wonderful word is Greek ataraxia "indifference, calmness" without any English makeup. It comes from the negative prefix a(n)- + tarassein "to disturb". "Undisturbed" in the sense referring to people would therefore be another good interpretation of this word. It actually entered English before 1603 (the earliest published evidence) in its Anglicized garb, ataraxy, probably borrowed from the French version of this word, ataraxie. The word never took, however, and in the late 19th century it was reintroduced in medical texts as today's Good Word.
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