Printable Version
Pronunciation: ê-byuz (verb), ê-byus (noun) Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: 1. To misuse, pervert, degrade, as 'abuse a position'. 2. To mistreat, maltreat, treat cruelly, victimize; molest, as 'abuse a child' 3. To vilify, revile as 'abuse someone for his/her abuse of power'. 4. To use excessively, as 'abuse drugs'.

Notes: Today we have a verb whose action noun is formed in an unusual way: the voicing is removed from the final vowel, so that [ê-byuz] becomes ê-byus (see Pronunciation above). The adjective is then based on the noun: abusive [ê-byu-siv]. It has a synonym, abuseful. We also have active and passive personal nouns, abuser and abusee, at our disposal.

In Play: Most often today's word is used in the sense of "mistreatment": "We abuse the Earth because we see it as a commodity belonging to our species only." We hear it in the sense of verbal abuse, but here it is in an expression referring to both this sense and its most common usage: "Politicians who abuse their position are most often abused."

Word History: Today's Good Word was snatched from Old French abuser "deceive, misuse" which French created from Latin abusus "misused, used up", the past participle of abutor "to use up, misuse". This verb is made up of ab "(away) from" + utor "to use". Ab is the Latin version of PIE apo "from, out, of", which also produced Sanskrit apa "off, away, back", Greek aps "back, again", German auf "up, on", English of and off, Welsh o "of, from", Russian po "by, according to", and Serbian po "by, as per, on". How utor and usus came to be in Latin remains a mystery, but the roots us- and ut- appear in all Romance languages and those borrowing from Latin, like English: use and utilize. We find usar and utilizar in Portuguese and Spanish, user "wear" and utilizer "use" in French, and usare and utilizzare in Italian.

Dr. Goodword,

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