Printable Version
Pronunciation: vis-ê-rêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: . Of or related to the viscera, the innards, the soft tissue of the internal organs. 2. Instinctive, physical rather than intellectual or spiritual, as though wrenching the guts.

Notes: Today's adjective is derived from the rarely used word for one internal organ, a viscus [vis-ks], whose plural is viscera "a number of internal organs". This word's plural is similar to that of corpus, corpora. While the singular is seldom heard, it is still around for those awkward moments when something goes wrong inside you, but you don't know exactly what: "I seem to have a bad viscus somewhere, but I can't determine which one it is."

In Play: Offal is an old Good Word meaning animal innards that may replace guts, but what about our own? Guts is even more inappropriate for beautiful animals like us; we need a word to help us out here, closer to home. Your gut feelings now become visceral feelings, with a cleaner, smoother even wetter sound: "In the movie, Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg aimed at a visceral rather than an intellectual response from the audience."

Word History: Today's Good Word is derived from the Latin word viscus "internal organ", whose plural is viscera. Latin contains many words that end on an S in the nominative singular that changes to an R in the plural or other cases. The same root is found in eviscerate "to disembowel" and a few other similarly disturbing words. It does not seem to be related to Latin vivere "to live", even though we can see slight semantic and spelling similarities. Rather, it seems to be related to the English words ooze and weasel. The original Proto-Indo-European root apparently referred to something wet, limp, and slippery, also related to Latin virus "slime, poison, venom".

Dr. Goodword,

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