• scruple •
skru-pêl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, Verb
Meaning: A qualm, a pang of guilt or doubt about a course of action, an uneasiness of conscience.
Notes: You may be surprised to discover that scruples has a singular, since it is so seldom used. You will be familiar with all its derivational relatives. Aside from its use as a verb meaning "to have moral reservations", as to not scruple to mislead the public, it offers two adjectives: scrupulous and scrupleless "without scruples". Both may be pressed into adverbial service by adding -ly.
In Play: The careful speaker will distinguish those situations calling for this word in the singular from those demanding it in the plural: "Helen Highwater has no scruple against presenting herself as a psychologist even though her degree is in business." The same speaker would also be attracted to the verbal abilities of today's word: "I think I would scruple to hide my report card from my parents—though the temptation is certainly there."
Word History: Today's Good Word started out referring to stones. Latin scrupulus "sharp pebble", whence our word scruple, is the diminutive of scrupus "a sharp or pointed stone". It probably comes from the same root as English scrape and sharp, though there are phonetic problems in making perfect connections. The Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero used this word metaphorically to refer to any cause of uneasiness or anxiety, comparing such a cause with a sharp pebble in the shoe. It was this sense that English acquired when it polished up the Latin word scrupulus to blend in with our vocabulary.