Printable Version
Pronunciation: prê-vok Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: 1. To elicit, incite, induce, to bring about, to cause to arise, as to provoke imaginative solutions. 2. To agitate or stir up feelings, especially those of anger or resentment, as to provoke an argument.

Notes: This Good Word came from France with its entire family. The adjective is provocative, the adverb provocatively, and the noun, provocation. The adjective, provocative, has slid a bit off semantic course and is often used in the sense of "seductive, alluring", as a provocative cocktail dress or swim suit. Someone who provokes is a provoker but for a spy sent to intentionally provoke someone to act as they would not ordinarily, we use the French word, provocateur.

In Play: The implication of provoke today is to cause an angry reaction: "Gladys Friday's practical jokes finally provoked a reaction from her co-workers that she did not expect." In actuality, the meaning of this word has not strayed far from its original Latin sense of "call forth" (see Word History), for it means to call forth (cause) a reaction of any sort: "Nothing Creswell tried provoked any improvement of the efficiency of the organization."

Word History: English borrowed this word from Latin via Old French provoquer. In Latin it was provocare "to challenge", made up of pro "forth, forward" + vocare "to call". The verb stem in this word comes from the noun vox, vocis "voice" and shows up in other words borrowed from Latin, such as vocation, a calling, and vocal. Latin voticare was also based on vocare and meant "call repeatedly". In Norman French it became voucher "to summon" and went on to become vouch in English. (Today's Good Word was provoked by an excellent suggestion from Dr. Jonathan Glaser of Toronto, Canada.)

Dr. Goodword,

P.S. - Register for the Daily Good Word E-Mail! - You can get our daily Good Word sent directly to you via e-mail in either HTML or Text format. Go to our Registration Page to sign up today!