• fractious •
fræk-shês • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Irritable, quarrelsome, cantankerous, cranky, peevish. 2. Unable to agree, discordant, uncontrollable, troublesome.
Notes: Today's Good Word is an old adjective from fraction that came about when fraction meant "discord, brawling". Today it has drifted so far away from its origin that it is now treated as a regular English word, with a regular adverb, fractiously, and noun, fractiousness.
In Play: We may use this word when referring to individuals: "Marvin couldn't get a good night's sleep because of a fractious baby in the next room." It is also applicable to bodies of people: "Folks who should know say that faculty meetings in universities are usually fractious because so little is at stake." (So what is congress's excuse?)
Word History: Fraction goes back to fractus, the past participle of Latin frangere "to break", with a Fickle N. Latin inherited this word from Proto-Indo-European bhreg- "break". The intial [bh] in PIE was regularly converted to [f] in Latin and Greek, as we see in furnace (borrowed from Latin) and burn (a natural English word). So, bhreg- came to be break in English. This same PIE word came to be at the heart of suffrage. English adapted this word from Latin suffragium "right to vote" from suffragari "to vote". This word apparently originated in a phrase long since lost referring to the fragments of tile used by the Romans in voting. (Lest we leave Lew Jury fractious, let's all now thank him for recommending today's lovely Good Word.)
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