Printable Version
Pronunciation: sê-chah-grê-hê Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)

Meaning: The practice of nonviolent resistance to political oppression developed by Mahatma Gandhi.

Notes: The idea of satyagraha originated in the writings of Leo Tolstoy, especially What I Believe (1884) and The Kingdom of God is Within You (1894). It was first applied by Mahatma Gandhi in the 1930s and 1940s to free India from colonial rule. Martin Luther King adapted the philosophy of both these thinkers to the nonviolent resistance to the legal and customary racism in the US that led to the 1964 (and subsequent) civil rights legislation.

In Play: Today's Good Word replaces the phrase "nonviolent resistance to evil", though the word itself is almost as long as the phrase: "In the 1960s many Americans applied satyagraha to social institutions to bring the Vietnam War to an end." Satyagraha involves impeding the power of large organizations, including governments, without resorting to violent actions.

Word History: Today's word, Sanskrit satyagrahah "truth power", is based on satyam "truth" + a "to" + grahah "determination, insistence" from grhnati "he grabs, seizes". Sanskrit is one of the oldest written Indo-European languages and comes from the same Proto-Indo-European as do Germanic languages like English and Romance languages like French and Spanish. It is the mother language of Hindi and Gujarati, Gandhi's native tongue. Sanskrit satyam "truth" comes from sat-, sant- "being, existing", made up of s "is" + -yam, the present participle ending much like French -ent, -ant that we use in such words as migrant and stimulant. The S in this word came from the same source as English is, French est, and German ist.

Dr. Goodword,

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