Printable Version
Pronunciation: skaydh Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: 1. To harm or injure, especially by fire. 2. To excoriate, to rake over the coals, to chew out, to furiously castigate, to roundly excoriate.

Notes: Today's Good Word survives robustly only in participles: the negative form of its past participle, unscathed "unharmed", and in the positive sense of its present participle: scathing "very harshly critical". We seldom ask ourselves where these words come from or where they fit in the English vocabulary; we simply use them as adjectives.

In Play: Politics is where scathing is most popular: "When Senator Bunkham changed his position on legalizing the use of smart phones while driving, it unleashed a string of scathing tweets on social media." If a politician can survive a scathing attack, he or she is golden: "Senator Bunkham emerged from the attacks unscathed when he simply flipped back to his original position."

Word History: Today's word is a gift of the Vikings who "visited" the coast of England from 789 to 1066. They brought along with them Old Norse skaða "to hurt, injure, damage" which, no doubt, they used quite often. Skaða was derived from Proto-Germanic skatho "hurt, damage", which became Dutch schaden, German schaden, Danish and Norwegian skade, and Swedish skada, all meaning "harm". Skatho devolved from the PIE root sket-/skot- "to injure". Its remnants are found in a Greek word, a-skethes "unharmed, unscathed" and Armenian khat'arem "obliterates, destroys". It also turns up in Serbo-Croatian škoditi, Polish szkodzić, and Czech škodit—all meaning "to harm or injure".

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!