• proscribe •
prê-scraib • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, transitive
Meaning: 1. Forbid, prohibit. 2. To banish, outlaw.
Notes: The trick in using this word is not to confuse it with prescribe "to set down as law or medicine to be taken." Their nouns and adjectives, too, are very similar: proscription : prescription, proscriptive : prescriptive. If you allow metathesis, as many Americans do, you get
perscription, and lose the sound distinction altogether.
In Play: Today's word may be used in any conversation about restrictions: "Social contact among office workers is proscribed; the proscription apparently does not extend to officers of the company." It can also be used to refer to activities that are banished: "The list of proscribed behaviors after a touchdown is long and comical."
Word History: In Middle English today's word was proscriben, taken from Latin proscribere "to outlaw", combining pro "for, in front of" + scribere "to scratch, write". It comes from Proto-Indo-European skribh- "to cut, scratch", an extension of sker- "to cut". The shift from "scratch" to "write" is explained by the shift from writing on wood and stone to paper. We have borrowed many words from Latin based on scribere, including scribe, scribble, and script. From the unextended form, sker-, English developed shear and sheer on its own. By adding our own suffix, we also came up with sharp. (So long as Susanne Russell recommends Good Words like today's her suggestions will never be proscribed from this series.)
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