Printable Version
Pronunciation: pê-lem-ik Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A heated controversy, especially an argument over doctrine or ideology.

Notes: Today's Good Word comes with all the family a word needs. The adjective is polemical; the adverb, polemically. A person who engages in polemics is a polemicist [pê-lem-ê-sist] who polemicizes. A good polemicist is one who argues rationally. Polemicists engage in polemics, the art of arguing controversial points about politics or religion. Polemics is a singular noun in a class with linguistics and physics, so it may be used with a singular verb: "Polemics is not my cup of tea."

In Play: Often we think of polemics as a derogatory term but it isn't by any means: "Martin Luther King is remembered as a courageous and articulate polemicist who fought indefatigably for minority civil rights." We in the US have heard enough polemics for this year during the two political conventions: "It is difficult to distinguish the two political parties in the US on the basis of their polemics."

Word History: Today's word came to English from Greek polemikos "hostile" via Latin and directly from French polémique "combative". Greek polemikos was the adjective from polemos "war". Questions still surround the origin of polemos but it probably comes from a root meaning "to hit, strike, beat" related to Latin pellare with precisely this meaning. The past participle of this word is pulsus from which English borrowed pulse, the sensation of the beating heart. As expected in English, the P became F and, with a suffix -t, the same root became felt, a fabric made by compressing rather than weaving wool fibers. (Let's avoid polemics and simpy thank Marion Dill for suggesting such a Good Word as today's.)

Dr. Goodword,

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