vai-kæ-ri-ês • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Substitute, surrogate, experienced through sympathy with someone who has the actual experience, as vicarious pain that we experience through sympathy with someone else who actually suffers that pain.
Notes: Today's word is the adjective of vicar, a parish priest of the Church of England, considered a surrogate for a higher power in the Catholic Church. In fact, the Pope is often thought of as the vicar of the Lord. So, the original meaning of vicar was "surrogate". The adverb is vicariously, vicariousness is the noun though the position or residence of a vicar is a vicarage.
In Play: We all enjoy fine cuisine vicariously through the gleams in the eyes of participants on cooking shows. (Well, I do.) But there are other events we can enjoy vicariously: "I got a vicarious thrill listening to Gladys tell about her date with that dreamboat in accounting." Vicarious experiences may be positive or not: "Lowell is so in love with Loretta that when she sneezes he vicariously wipes his nose with a tissue."
Word History: Today's Good Word is a descendant of Latin vicarius "substitute" from vicis "change". This word's root is found in several English words referring to change or replacement, such as vicissitude "change" and the prefix vice- "replacement" as in vice-president. The original Proto-Indo-European root, *weig- "turn, bend," made it to English as both weak and week. Weak was borrowed from Old Norse veikr "pliant, bendable" while week came from Old Germanic *wikon- "a turn". German Wechsel "change" comes from the same origin. (Katy Brezger's weakness is interesting words like this one which she suggested, and she enjoys them directly and vicariously.)