• sobriety •
sê-brai-ê-tee • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: 1. The state of being sober, not under the influence of alcohol or drugs. 2. Seriousness absent all excess, exaggeration, or frivolity.
Notes: Today's Good Word and the adjective it was derived from, sober, are clearly important words in English, for they come with a panoply of derivations and related words. Soberness is a synonym of today's word, and soberly is the adverb for sober. As we will see in the History, inebriate is a distant cousin twice or thrice removed, and it comes with a plethora of derivational relatives.
In Play: First and foremost, this word serves as the antonym of drunkenness: "Sobriety is not a virtue associated with college fraternities." However, I prefer its service as a lovelier substitute for seriousness and sedateness: "The sobriety of the chamber music concert disintegrated when the bee flew up the cellist's skirt." All kidding aside, though, we dedicate today's Good Word to all our alcoholic friends who have lived in complete sobriety for a year or more, a remarkable accomplishment that too often we ignore. Congratulations and best wishes for continued success.
Word History: Today's Good Word seems like an odd pairing of sober + -ity, but it comes in fact from Latin sobrietas, the noun for sobrius "sober". Sobrius was originally a combination of so(d)-, sometimes se(d)-, "without" + ebrius "drunk". As a preposition, sed "without" was replaced in Classical Latin by sine, which went on to become French sans, Portuguese sem, and Spanish sin. No one remembers where the root of ebrius came from, but we do find it in the English borrowing ebrious "drunk", ebriety "drunkenness" and, of course, inebriate "to get (someone) drunk". (We graciously thank Mike Ferguson for the soberingly good suggestion that we investigate today's Good Word.)
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