• refractory •
ri-fræk-tê-ri • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Difficult to control, unmanageable, stubborn, resistant, rebellious.
Notes: This word is part of a rather extensive family. The adverb is refractorily and the noun, refractoriness. The verb refract means "to deflect", a slightly different kind of resistance. It is widely used in physics and optics to refer to the deflection of light and sound.
In Play: Referring to people, this adjective means "stubborn" or even "rebellious": "Discussion of the abortion issue is hindered by refractory attitudes on both sides." The word is used in medicine to refer to recalcitrant conditions: "The most refractory ulcers can now be treated with ordinary antibiotics." Ceramicists use it in the sense of "resistant to fire": "Mary Potter's kiln was made of refractory bricks."
Word History: Today's Good Word was influenced by adjectives ending in -ory, because it was originally refractary, borrowed from Latin refractarius "stubborn, obstinate". This adjective was made from refractus "broken up", the past participle of refringere "to break up", consisting of re- here an intensifier + frangere "to break". Latin inherited the word from Proto-Indo-European bhre(n)g- "break" with a Fickle N that comes and goes as it pleases. English came upon the same root via its Germanic ancestors and turned it into break and breach. We borrowed the noun from the same Latin verb, fractio(n) for our fraction.
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