• expletive •
eks-plê-tiv • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective, Noun
Meaning: 1. (Adjective) Serving only to fill out something, such as a word or sentence, or to make up a required number. 2. An obscene interjection. 3. A word that contributes nothing to the meaning of a sentence, but is needed to fill a grammatical position, as it's in the sentence, 'It's raining'.
Notes: Today's Good Word is used almost exclusively as a noun referring to profanity. It has a perfectly innocuous adjectival meaning that is in danger of being lost. Profanity has such a profound effect on language that as soon as a word takes on a profane meaning (e.g. ass), it becomes the dominant meaning, overwhelming the original one. It is based on the verb explete "to fill out, to complete", which has another noun, expletion.
In Play: The transcripts of the Nixon Whitehouse tapes were grammatically notable for the frequent occurrence of "expletive deleted". Expletives most frequently simply indicate the speaker's attitude toward the reference of this sentence. Here's an example with the nominal meaning: "If you removed expletives from English, Ivan Oder would have nothing to say." However, let's not let the adjective go quite yet: "Morris can't play bridge tonight; do you know an expletive player who could sit in for him?"
Word History: English captured this word from Middle French explétif, feminine explétive. French inherited its word from Late Latin expletivus "serving to fill out", based on Latin expletus, the past participle of explere "to fill out". Explere is built up of ex- "out" + plere "to fill". The Latin root goes back to Proto-Indo-European pel-/pol- "to fill", which came to be English fill and full. It also gave Latin its word plenus "full", which underlies the English borrowing plenty and plus which is behind plural. In Russian it turned up as polny "full" and in Greek as polus "many" and the prefix poly-, which is now a prefix in all European Indo-European languages. (We owe Norman Neuberger III our gratitude for recommending yet another [expletive deleted] Good Word.)
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