Printable Version
Pronunciation: ri-nig or ri-neg Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, intransitive

Meaning: To fail to fulfill an obligation, such as the obligation to follow suit in card games like bridge, to go back on a promise.

Notes: Some dictionaries still list a transitive sense of this verb, "to renounce, deny". The Oxford English Dictionary lists this sense as now archaic, however, so we would advise avoiding it. The intransitive sense of today's word, given above, may be used semi-transitively with the preposition on: to renege on a promise. The semantic effect is transitivity, but only with on. The earlier spelling of today's word, renegue, is also obsolete now.

In Play: Anyone who fails to carry through on a promise, reneges: "Pierce Deere reneged on his $10 bet that I couldn't drink a bottle of champagne on New Year's Eve and get back home on my own." In fact, I succeeded despite the fact that some dern fool stepped on my fingers along the way. Failure to see any commitment through constitutes reneging: "Pat Agonia has already reneged on her New Year's resolution to avoid chocolate ice cream this year."

Word History: Today's Good Word is one of many derived from Latin renegare "to deny", a verb comprising re- "back" + negare "to deny, reject". The same word produced Spanish renegado "renegade", a person denied the privileges of society. English captured the Spanish word and adapted its pronunciaion to renegade. The negative particle ne "not" appears in too many languages and words to be sufficiently surveyed here. In Slavic languages like Russian and Polish, it remains ne or nie, meaning "no" and "not". It became neg- in Latin words, but a reduplicated form, non, took up the sense of "not". French retained this word, but other Romance languages reduced it to no, whence it was quickly borrowed by English. In German the neg- form became nicht "not", but a reduplicative form, nein, is the word for "no". (We will not renege on our obligation to acknowledge Lee Blue for suggesting today's very Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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