• sacrosanct •
sæ-krê-sængkt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Inviolable, untouchable, immune to criticism of any kind, holiest of holies.
Notes: You would think this word derives from religion, but the earliest uses in English are no more related to church rites than to other aspects of life. The noun accompanying sacrosanct is sacrosanctity.
In Play: Sacrosanctity applies to great ideas: "The less democratic a nation is, the more sacrosanct democracy becomes." Still, it applies to the smallest: "Lester found it hard to grasp the unspoken but nonetheless sacrosanct rules around the office."
Word History: Today's Good Word did have a strictly religious sense in Latin. Latin sacrosanctus meant "protected by religious sanction, consecrated by religious ceremonies". It is made up of sacro, the ablative of sacrum "religious sanction" + sanctus, past participle of sancire "make sacred", in other words "made sacred by religious sanction". Sacro and sanctus derived from non-nasalized and nasalized forms of the same PIE word: sa(n)k- "to sanctify" with a Fickle N. It seems to have died out with all ancient PIE languages except Latin. (Ancient Hittite is the only PIE language in which it emerged, where we find šaklai- "rite".) In the Latin dialects we find French saint, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish santo, santa, all meaning "saint". (It is my sacrosanct duty to thank Jackie Strauss for yet another excellent Good Word suggestion.)
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