Printable Version
Pronunciation: sêrj Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, intransitive (no direct object)

Meaning: 1. To billow powerfully, to rise and fall in heavy waves. 2. To move forward in a powerful wave. 3. To increase or improve suddenly and to a great extent.

Notes: I kept hoping that the misuse of today's Good Word would go away before sullying its reputation. Since President Obama repeated it to refer to troop reinforcements in the Afghanistan war, it seems to have spread to the general vocabulary in the US. Even though I have meticulously built a reputation for stretching the sense of words to the maximum, calling a military buildup or reinforcements a "surge of troops" enters territory where even I fear to tread. It is a metaphor that just doesn't work and smacks a bit of warspeak.

In Play: Troop surges are possible: "At the captain's command, the troops surged out of the trenches." Troops can surge through enemy lines when those lines break. The important point is that a surge must be a strong wave-like motion, a push forward, powered by a force within whatever is surging. The buildups in Iraq and Afghanistan were discrete divisions being added to those already in those countries—by no means a surge.

Word History: Today's word came to us from an ancestor of French surgir "spring up, burst forth" from Latin surgere "to rise". The Latin verb comprises sub "(from) below" + regere "to lead, be straight" based on the root reg-. This Proto-Indo-European root apparently had the same ambiguity as English rule "a straight edge" and "to dominate, control". It shows up in Latin regula "straight stick", which Old French reduced to reule, whence English borrowed it as rule. Rex (regis) "king" became French roi "king" and royal, which English borrowed unchanged. In Sanskrit it emerged as raja "king, ruler", a constituent in the compound maharaja "great leader". The first element of this word is the adjective maha "great", a distant cousin of English much and Greek mega "large", used now in such words as megaton and megabyte.

Dr. Goodword,

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