In a word: Scathing

January 30, 2012

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. This week's word:


Those fine fellows the Vikings, after an interval of raiding and pillaging seaside villages in Britain, came to think that it would be simpler and just to conquer the territory, and so they did. They did eventually leave, but not without depositing some Old Norse words, like knife, in English.

One of them, scathe, "to harm," "to injure," from the Old Norse skatha, has sadly become largely archaic, but its present participle, scathing (SKAY-thing) has survived as a handy adjective for "caustic," "severely critical," "witheringly scornful."

Example: Tina Fey: "I was the editor of the school newspaper and in drama club and choir, so I was not a popular girl in the traditional sense, but I think I was known for being relatively scathing."

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