Printable Version
Pronunciation: in-ê-sênt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Uncorrupted by evil, sinless, guileless. 2. Not guilty of a specific crime, legally blameless. 3. Utterly lacking, deprived of, devoid of.

Notes: Innocent is a common enough word, but we hope today's Good Word expands your appreciation of it. First, it may be used as a noun: an innocent is an inexperienced person, especially a child. The quality noun is innocence, that which characterizes an innocent. The adverb is innocently. Its more distant relatives may be found in the Word History.

In Play: Today's Good Word is used today mostly in the courtroom: "Cody Fendant couldn't say he and his brother were innocent of killing his parents, so he asked the court for mercy because they were orphans." But I love this word for its metaphorical sense: "Sally Forth had just come to New York from the farm and, totally innocent of the ways of a big city, bought the Brooklyn Bridge at a very reasonable price."

Word History: Today's Good Word was borrowed from Old French, which inherited it from Latin innocent(s) "not harming", made up of the negative prefix in- "not" + nocen(t)s "harming", the present participle of nocere "to harm, to hurt". The PIE word, nek'-/nok'- that gave us the root of nocere meant "death". It has kept this meaning in necrosis "death of tissue" (a medical term) and necromancy, the practice of communicating with the dead. The meaning of noxious had already been reduced to "harmful, harming" by the time it had reached Latin, where English picked it up. So, what is the connection between nectarine and death? Nectarine originally meant "sweet as nectar". Before that, nectar meant "food of the Gods". Huh?! Well, nectar was once a PIE compound comprising nek- "death" + tar- "overcoming", a participle from tere- "to cross over, overcome". (We are not innocent of gratitude to Daniel Whelan for suggesting today's Good Word: Thanks, Daniel.)

Dr. Goodword,

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