• rubric •
ru-brik • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A title or heading, the name of something, especially the name of a category. 2. A direction for the conduct of services in a liturgical text, often distinguished from the text by red print. 3. Any red-letter entry in a diary, on a calendar, etc.
Notes: Today's Good Word is related to many others in English, but only distantly so. Rubric comes with a natural adjective, rubrical, but all its other relatives mean "red" in some sense: ruby, rubescent, rubeola. The reason for this becomes apparent in the Word History.
In Play: Today's word comes in handy when talking about categories of things: "Carlton, I would say that charging me 30 percent on a personal loan until payday would fall under the rubric of usury." Introduce it whenever you are talking about the name of something: "Marian Kine has been married so many times it almost falls under the rubric of polygamy."
Word History: Today's Good Word is another snipped from Latin, this time rubrica "red chalk". Rubrica was derived from ruber "red". Its meaning shifted to "heading" because the headings of the liturgical texts in the Catholic Church have traditionally been printed in red. Those headings came to be referred to as "the reds" in Latin and French. Latin inherited it from Proto-Indo-European reudh- "red", for some reason changing the DH to B in rubrica. We would have expected DH to become F in Latin, and so it does in rufus "red-haired", a word that also became a common name in Rome. The Proto-Indo-European root for "red" also came to English via its Germanic roots as ruddy, converting the DH to D, just as we would expect. (Let's file Eric Berntson's suggestion of rubric as today's Good Word under the rubric of a stroke of good luck for all of us.)
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