• moribund •
mor-ê-bênd • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: On the brink of death in every sense of the word, in the process of dying (out).
Notes: Like most adjectives, today's Good Word may be used as an adverb with the proper attire: moribundly. It also comes with a noun, moribundity. Keep in mind that this word does not indicate death but merely the approach of death. Things moribund may still be revitalized and returned to a state of full health.
In Play: Though today's Good Word is still used literally in medicine, in ordinary conversation it is most often used metaphorically: "Andy Belham thinks that the civility that once imbued American society is moribund if not already in a state of rigor mortis." Anything that seems to be disappearing may be said to be moribund: "Interest in nuclear energy, moribund for the past 20 years, seems to be gaining strength these days."
Word History: This word comes to us through French from Latin moribundus "dying," an adjective derived from mori "to die" + an adjective suffix -bundus. The verb is based on the noun mors, mortis "death, of death", which came from an older word that we see in many Indo-European languages. In Russian it picked up a prefix s- to become smert' "death", the first element of SMERSH, from smert' shpionam "death to spies", the Soviet counterintelligence office during World War II. In English it picked up the suffix -er and came down to us as murder. English also borrowed a slew of words from Latin based on the Latin word: mortuary, mortician, mortal, morbid, and mortify are just a few. Of course, the name Morticia of the Addams Family is based on the same telling root. (We are happy that Eric Berntson is not a moribund subscriber but a very lively contributor of excellent Good Words like today's.)
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