Printable Version
Pronunciation: sê-born Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: 1. To induce (a person) to commit a crime or a wrongful act, as 'to suborn someone to commit perjury'. 2. To wrongfully or illegally undermine something, get someone to act illegally, as 'to suborn US interests'.

Notes: This is a word most often heard in the legal phrase 'to suborn perjury', though its second meaning allows it to be used in other contexts. The noun accompanying this verb is subornation and the adjective subornate [sê-bor-nêt]. There are two personal nouns, suborner "one who suborns" and subornee "one who is suborned".

In Play: As mentioned earlier, this word is used most often in courts of law referring to witness testimony: "Susan Liddy-Gates lost her license to practice law for suborning perjury of a witness in a bank robbery case." Still, it is often used in the second sense: "The Russians try to suborn Americans into betraying their country."

Word History: Today's Good Word was borrowed from Middle French suborner "seduce, instigate, bribe", inherited by French from Latin subornare "employ as a secret agent, incite secretly". Apparently, the Latin verb originally meant "equip, fit out, furnish", since it consists of sub "under; secretly" + ornare "equip", a word related to ordo "row, rank, series, arrangement". Sub and super come from the same source, presumably, a PIE word with a Fickle S, (s)upo "(from) under" (perhaps original ex-upo). Since the PIE [s] became [h] in Greek before some vowels, it could result in sub and super in Latin while becoming hyper "over" and hypo "under" in Greek. Latin ornare seems to have come from PIE ar- "fit together", that went into the making of arm, articulate, and order, which underlies primordial, composed of primus "first" + ordiri "begin to weave", a way of ordering threads.

Dr. Goodword,

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