Printable Version
Pronunciation: stêl-tê-fai Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: 1. To render useless, less effective or ineffective. 2. To make look stupid or ridiculous. 3. [Law] To allege or prove legally insane or of unsound mind.

Notes: Like all verbs ending on the suffix -ify, today's Good Word allows stultification and stultifier, though not much else in terms of a derivational family. More distantly, we have stultiloquy "talking or speaking stupidly". This noun comes with a similarly reduced family of only an adjective stultiloquent and a quality noun, stultiloquence.

In Play: My experience with this word suggests that the first definition above is the most common: "The US Senate has been stultified by the overuse of the filibuster." The original meaning, however, is number two above: "Winfred stultified the speaker by correcting his misstatement that George Washington was born in the District of Columbia."

Word History: Today's word was imported from Latin stultificare "to make foolish" from stultus "foolish" + -ficare, a reduced variant of the root of facere "to make". Our best guess is that the Latin root stult- goes back to Proto-Indo-European stel- "put, place, stand". It shows up in such words as still, stilts, and stallion, a horse most likely to stand on its hind legs. Another related Latin word, stolidus, set out meaning "unmoveable, rude", but then its sense shifted to "stupid, foolish". We have no shortage of words in the Indo-European languages based on this root. German Stelle "position, place" comes from it, as well as Russian stlat' "to lay down, put down". (I would, of course, stultify myself were I to forget to thank Luke Javan, otherwise known as Luke-a-Lele, a Grand Panjandrum in the Alpha Agora, for suggesting today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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