• nefandous •
nê-fæn-dês • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: (Archaic) Unspeakably horrible, abominable, atrocious.
Notes: Despite sharing the origin of nefandous, nefarious refers to something wicked or evil but not unspeakably horrible. When something is genuinely unspeakably horrible, it is best to use a word that is almost never spoken itself. Nefandous is an alternative that only a handful of devoted verbivores will recognize. This word is a bit archaic but that shouldn't matter to those of us who are a bit archaic ourselves. We even recommend it to our younger readers.
In Play: Nefandous carries with it such horrific implications that it is difficult to use jokingly: "When Hitler entered the USSR, he caught Stalin in the midst of the most nefandous act of genocide the world has ever known." The ease with which events deserving this attribute come to mind as I write this is a bit unsettling: "The Spanish Inquisition was one of the most nefandous events in European history."
Word History: Today's Good Word is made up of the negative prefix ne- "not" + fandus "to be spoken", the gerund of Latin fari "to speak" + -ous, an English adjective suffix. The past participle of this verb is fatus "spoken", and the feminine, fata "that which is spoken" came to mean "fate", the origin of our word. The present participle of the same verb is fans, fantis "speaking", the negative of which is infans, infantis, a word that became the name of nonspeaking children, infant. Since the youngest men in armies of the past were foot soldiers, early Italians referred to the infantry derisively as infanteria "the nursery". The derisive name stuck, however, becoming infanterie in French and infantry in English. (It wouldn't be nefandous to forget to credit the mysterious Grogie of the Alpha Agora for suggesting today's Good Word, but it would be pretty uncivil.)