Printable Version
Pronunciation: sêf-êr Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: 1. To undergo pain, injury, or anything unpleasant, as to suffer from a cold. 2. To endure, put up with, stand, as to suffer his in-laws with only the occasional grimace. 3. To permit, allow, as to suffer no hopes for promotion among her underlings.

Notes: I encounter the second and third meanings of today's Good Word only in my readings—and seldom there. They are slightly archaic, but this only lends a kind of poeticity to the word. Suffer comes with three derivatives: a noun, sufferance, which reflects all three meanings, and two adjectives which reflect only the second: sufferable "bearable" and its negative partner, unsufferable "unbearable". The personal noun, sufferer, and abstract action noun, suffering, cover the first meaning.

In Play: Suffer in the second sense above is heard most often with the object fools: "Do you suffer fools gladly, or tell them what you really think?" The King James version of the Bible cites Jesus in using the third sense of today's Good Word thus: " Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for to such belongeth the kingdom of God" (Luke 18:16). The more modern translations render this passage with the much more prosaic word let: "Let the little children. . . ."

Word History: In Middle English today's word was suffren, borrowed from Old French sufrir. French inherited this word from Latin sufferre "to bear, endure, undergo", made up of sub "(from) under" + ferre "to carry". Latin inherited its verb directly from Proto-Indo-European bher- "carry, bear", which came to English as the verb bear. Other English words derived from this root include burden (that which is borne), bairn (child, that which was born), and bring, with the common suffix -ing, which caused the vowel in the stem to disappear. The [bh] consistently converts to [f] in Latin and Greek, hence Latin ferre. We see Greek pherne "dowry" (what a bride carries with her) in Medieval Latin paraphernalia "possessions of a married woman besides her dowry", based on the Greek parapherne from para "beyond" + pherne "dowry".

Dr. Goodword,

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