Printable Version
Pronunciation: ig-nê-ray-mês Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. An ignorant person, a person lacking basic knowledge. 2. (Legal Latin) The status of a grand jury indictment in cases where evidence is insufficient to send the case to jury trial. The Latin word means "we do not know".

Notes: Today's Good Word has no English derivatives, but English did borrow a few Latin derivatives with similar meanings that form a kind of family. Ignorance is the quality that characterizes an ignoramus, and all ignoramuses are ignorant (a related adjective). Although you will occasionally hear ignorami used jokingly as the plural of today's word, ignoramuses is the only form accepted by dictionaries.

In Play: Ignoramuses absorb much of the lubricant on the wheels of progress: "And just which ignoramus tried to dry the dog in the microwave after its bath?" However, without them we would have far less to laugh about: "Some ignoramus listed the languages of the website as English, Italiano, Deutsch, and Franoise."

Word History: This word first appeared in legal documents with the original Latin sense of "we do not know". Apparently some ignoramus who didn't know Latin moved it to the general vocabulary as a noun with its current meaning. To be fair, though, English speakers have had difficulty dealing with Latin ignorare "to not know", for it also shows up in English as ignore, ostensibly unrelated to the Latin meaning. The Latin verb comprises i(n)- "not" + gno- "know" + ra-, a verbal suffix. The same root also passed through the Germanic languages, coming to English as know. The Greek negative prefix, corresponding to Latin i(n)-, was a(n)-. Adding this prefix to the Greek cognate of gno- + the adjective suffix -tik-os results in the source of English agnostic, someone who believes that no one can know whether God exists. (We cannot ignore Chuck Lee, obviously a man of considerable knowledge himself, for suggesting today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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