• psychopath •
sai-kê-pæth • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: No, a psychopath is not the road to insanity; rather, it is a person who is already dangerously psychotic, a person with an aggressively antisocial personality, who shows no remorse.
Notes: This noun has a small family, only an adjective, psychopathic, and an adverb, psycopathically. At one time we had a word psycopathist, which simply meant "psychologist", but this word has long since fallen by the wayside. The study of psychopaths falls under the umbrella of psychopathology "abnormal psychology". But this term extends to all forms of abnormal behavior, whether aggressive or not. Psycho is a shortening of psychopath.
In Play: Usually psychopaths commit more gruesome crimes than this: "Some psychopath stole my car and ran it through the front door of McDonald's." However, if we care to use hyperbole, today's word is a useful word in any hyperbolical toolkit: "That dumb Barton Oaks is a psychopath when it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers. If you ever say a word criticizing them, run for your life."
Word History: Today's Good Word is a compound composed of psyche "soul, spirit" + path "suffering, sickness". Latin psyche was borrowed from Greek psykhe "soul, mind, spirit." This word is the erstwhile daughter of the verb psykhein "to breathe, to blow", from the ancient belief that your breath as can be seen on a mirror is your soul or spirit. When it can be no longer detected there, you're dead. Path, as in pathology, comes from Greek pathos "sick, suffering". We see the same root in English sympathy, originally "co-suffering, suffering with (someone)", also borrowed from the Greek. When we put these two together, psycho + path, we get something like "spirit-sick" or "soul-suffering", not far from what the word actually means. (Unless we wish our souls to suffer, we should offer a word of gratitude to Chris Berry for suggesting today's Good Word.)