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Pronunciation: ter-rê-rist Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: Someone who resorts to violence and the threat of violence to coerce people or governments to accept their set of beliefs, a violent scaremonger.

Notes: Today's word has a positive connotation to all terrorists, but a negative sense for everyone else. This is the only word in English that distinguishes a murderer by his or her motivation. There are no words for "murder for revenge", "murder out of anger", etc. Someone has suggested that we stop doing terrorists favors and call them what we think of them: monsters, or at least murderers. These are accurate appellations that are unambiguous. The terrorist is a supporter of terrorism, and their methods are terroristic.

In Play: A funny true story: Russian terrorists in the early stages of the Russian Revolution tried to assassinate the Tsar by blowing up his train. They laid explosives under the tracks he was using and waited. The tsar always used two trains, switching them along the way. The terrorists thought the tsar was in the fourth car on the second train. When that car was over the explosives, they pushed the detonator. They blew up a load of cabbages and produced the largest serving of coleslaw the world has ever known.

Word History: Today's Good Word should not be confused with terroirist. Terrorist came from the French Reign of Terror (La Terreur, 1793-1794) under Robespierre during the French Revolution (1789-1799). Estimates run from 16,000 to 40,000 people who suffered at the guillotine during this period. The meaning of the word changed to what it is today over the course of the 19th century. The word is based on terror, taken whole from Latin terror, which was based on the verb terrere "scare, frighten", from PIE tres- "tremble". The same root shows up in Sanskrit trasati "trembles", Greek treëin "to tremble", Lithuanian trišeti "to tremble", and Russian tryasti "tremble", as in zemletryasenie "earthquake".

Dr. Goodword,

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