• scourge •
skêrj • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A whip, sometimes with multiple lashes, used for torture or punishment. 2. Any cause of great suffering, an extreme menace, as in 'the scourge of Ebola'.
Notes: The order of the definitions above is historical, and not based on frequency of occurrence. The second meaning is the most frequently encountered, but I wanted to show the semantic development of today's word. This noun may be used as a verb meaning "to whip or flog with a scourge", which makes possible a personal noun scourger, about as useful as the verb it is based on.
In Play: Even though the first sense is outdated, we sometimes meet it in literature with historical settings: "Seamen of old who displeased the captain faced the scourge." Now the second sense is the more prevalent: "Youth gangs are the scourge of US cities."
Word History: Today's Good Word comes to us from Anglo-Norman escorge, related to Old French escorgiee, the past participle of escorgier "to whip". French inherited this word from Vulgar (street) Latin excorrigiare, a verb resulting from the confusion of corrigia "thong" with Classical Latin excoriare "to skin, strip off". Excoriare is made up of ex- "from, off" + coriare "to skin" from corium "skin, hide". The past participle of this word, excoriatus, went into the making of English excoriate "to flay the skin off, or to viciously berate". The root, cor-, is also seen in Latin cortex "bark", which we borrowed directly from Latin to refer to the outer layer of the brain.
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