In a Word: Eleemosynary

December 13, 2010

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a moderately obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar — another brick to add to the wall of your working vocabulary. Use it in a sentence in a comment on his blog, You Don't say, and the best sentence will be featured next week. This week's word:


As you can tell from the businesses that permit bell ringers to stand outside soliciting contributions to charity, the season of giving is upon us. At such a time, eleemosynary is a multipurpose word, meaning, according to context, charitable, supported by charity, or given as charity.

The word comes into English from Latin: eleemosyna, or "alms." It came into Latin from Greek: eleemosune, "compassion."

If pronunciation looks to be a challenge, try this: el-ee-MAHS-uh-ner-ee. But don't over-pronounce. You can half-swallow later syllables: el-ee-MAHS-uh-n'ree.

But however you pronounce it, don't be stingy.

Example: In the opening pages of A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge, whom Dickens describes as a "squeezing, grasping, covetous old sinner," is not much given to eleemosynary impulses.

Last week: Demirep drew this comment from Bucinka:

In "The Sot-Weed Factor" by John Barth, two women of such repute hurl epithets at each other for almost three pages. If this exchange were to take place today, I think it would be referred to as 'trash-talking.' Sadly, I don't remember many of the euphemisms for 'prostitute' the women called each other ('mattressback' and 'roundheels' come to mind), but the list formed the basis for a paper I did in my Syntax & Semantics class in graduate school. It also formed the basis for much mirth in the class as I read the list to the group.

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