Printable Version
Pronunciation: væwch-sayf Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: To deign, to grant or agree to either graciously or condescendingly.

Notes: Today's Good Word, despite all the borrowing it is based on, is treated as a solidly English word. However, it does come with a process noun, vouchsafement, which you may use at your own risk. The word sounds so English, the French suffix makes this derivation seem rather odd. But then some of its English forms sound a bit odd, too: vouchsafes, vouchsafed, vouchsafing.

In Play: The implication of today's word is that a vouchsafement comes from an authority of some kind: "Mahatma Handh was vouchsafed passage through Bulgaria on condition that he not stop for more than an hour." However, it is used more and more today to indicate gracious rather than condescending granting: "Henrietta was vouchsafed a corner office for her years of service as the company snool.

Word History: Today's Good Word began its journey as a Middle English phrase, vouchen sauf "to warrant as safe", made up of vouchen, which eventually lost the suffix -en + sauf, a Middle French word for "safe". Vouch was the French descendant of Latin vocare "to call", which also provided English vocation, vocal, and voice. Safe is the English version of French sauf, an inheritance from Latin salvus "healthy, whole, intact". This stem is visible in English borrowings such as salvation, salvage, salvo and salute. Words like vouch, voice and vocal, and safe and salvo are eminent examples of how English creates several words from one by borrowing the same word at different stages of its development. (We, of course, graciously vouchsafe our gratitude to Martin Starr, professor emeritus of Columbia University, for his suggestion of today's eminently Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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