• paroxysm •
pær-êk-si-zêm • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. (Medicine) A sudden attack of a disease or symptom, as a paroxysm of coughing. 2. Any sudden and violent emotion or action, an outburst, a spasm, or fit.
Notes: The plural of today's word is paroxysms, probably the form most often used: to be in paroxysms of laughter or pain. There is an adjective, paroxysmal and an adverb, paroxysmally, though some prefer paroxysmic and paroxysmically.
In Play: Everyone has seen paroxysms of laughter, coughing, and the like. But paroxysms pop up in wondrous places: "The discovery of the missing funds was followed by paroxysms of finger-pointing in and around the finance office." Now, that is a useful use of this Good Word. Here is another: "The company is staggering under a large debt load brought on by a paroxysm of buying undertaken by the new president."
Word History: In Middle English today's word was paroxism "an attack of illness". It came from Medieval Latin paroxysmus, a word borrowed by the Romans from Greek paroxusmos "irritation; paroxysm". This word is the noun from the verb paroxunein "to stimulate, irritate", based on para- "thoroughly" + oxunein "to sharpen, goad, irritate", from oxus "sharp". The root of oxus is the same as that in English edge, which came from Old English ecg "sharp". In Latin, the same root emerged in acer "sharp", which underlies our word acrid. Oh, yes, acme is based on this root, too, from a related Greek word, akme "point". (Today we thank Katy Brezger, who is very sharp with Good Words like this one and is at the acme of her activity in the Alpha Agora.)
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