In a word: apotropaic

August 13, 2012|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a moderately obscure but evocative word with which you may not be acquainted--another brick to add to the wall of your working vocabulary. This week's word:


If, like the Italians, you make the fig gesture to ward off the evil eye, or you carry a St. Christopher medal in your car, or you fling spilled salt over your shoulder, you are taking apotropaic (pronounced ap-uh-truh-PAY-ik) measures to protect yourself from harm.

Apotropaic means having the power to turn away evil or bad luck. Its Greek original, apotropaios, means "prophylactic" or "warding off" or "averting evil," from apotrepein, "turn away from."

Example: Lytton Strachey on General Gordon in Eminent Victorians: "The same doctrine led him to append, in brackets, the apotropaic initials D.V. in every statement in his letters implying futurity."

(From the non-Latinists, "D.V." is an abbreviation for deo volente, "God willing.")

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