• rapacious •
rê-pay-shês • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Inordinately selfish, insatiable, exceptionally greedy. 2. Predatory, subsisting by catching live prey. 3. Ravenous, voracious, gluttonous.
Notes: Rapacious is a word that leads us down the 'garden-path' to a sense that is only slightly better than where we thought we were headed. It comes with an adverb, rapaciously, and two nouns: rapaciousness, and the slimmer rapacity. A third noun, rapine, leads us down another garden path to an adjective, but where it turns out to be a noun meaning "plundering, pillage". The meaning of rapine is hardly better than the modern English sense of the crime rape.
In Play: Rapacious first and foremost means "inordinately greedy": "When Robin robbed a train, he claimed that he was protecting the small farmer against rapacious railroad magnates." We can easily see how this sense applies to eating: "When Robin came home after a hard day's robbery, he had a rapacious appetite."
Word History: This word started out as Latin rapax, rapacis "inordinately greedy, grasping", derived from rapere "to seize and carry off". The meaning continued with the word as in Pope's 1712 "The Rape of the Lock", referring to a lock of hair cut from the hair of the fair Arabella by her suitor without her permission and carried off by him. The sexual denotation arose since then. The implication of carrying off hurriedly was evident in the Latin word, for Latin derived rapidus "hasty, swift, fast" from the same word. Latin got its word from PIE rep- "to grab, seize, pull out", which we see in Icelandic riva "to tear (away)" and Lithuanian replės "pliers", things that grasp. Turnips and similar root vegetables are also sometimes called rapes. This word came from Latin rapa "turnip, rape" and only coincidentally merged with the verb rape. (Now an e-bow to Lew Jury, who has suggested more than 150 Good Words since 2005, each with as fascinating a story as today's.)
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