Printable Version
Pronunciation: ee-thahs Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: Character, the characteristic set of beliefs and attitudes that guides the behavior of individuals, groups, institutions, and nations.

Notes: Though they share the same origin, ethos and ethics "moral values" are not the same. The meaning of ethos is much broader, including that of ethics. An ethos includes all the beliefs and convictions that make up the character of humans and animals: ethical, political, cultural, habitual, and so on. The study of the ethos of animals is ethology and a list of their characteristics is an ethogram.

In Play: An ethos includes all habits as well as beliefs of a person or people; sometimes they even conflict: "Overeating seems to be part of the ethos of wealthy nations, even though most people resist it." Individuals have ethoses, too: "Fear of abduction by aliens is a part of Pat Agonia's ethos that he will never surrender."

Word History: Today's Good Word is Greek ethos "custom, habit", plain and simple, transliterated into the Latin alphabet. It originated with the Proto-Indo-European root (s)we- "oneself, one's own", with a Fickle S that comes and goes mysteriously. Greek added its own suffix and endings to the form without the S. With the S, this stem ended up as English self, Russian svoj "one's own", Latin sui "of one's own", now a part of English suicide. English also inherited another form of this root, sibb "relative" (one's own), which combined with god to form godsib "godparent". Today that word is gossip. (We are delighted that Sandra Larsen's ethos includes building her vocabulary and sharing words like today's Good Word with us.)

Dr. Goodword,

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