Printable Version
Pronunciation: kahr-sê-rêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Pertaining to prisons and jails or to incarceration.

Notes: Today's Good Word is a literary term, more likely to be read than heard spoken. Since neither jail (or gaol) nor prison presents with adjectives, today's word comes in handy. The noun for it is carcerality.

In Play: Let me out!This adjective may refer to imprisoned people: "The carceral population of the US is the highest in the world." However, its usefulness does not end there: "Despite its carceral appearance, the convention center was equipped with all the conventional amenities."

Word History: Carceral was trimmed from Late Latin carceralis "carceral", based on carcer "jail, prison". Latin seems to have created this word from Proto-Indo-European (s)ker-/(s)kor- "to bend, turn, encircle" + -alis, an adjectival suffix. With the Fickle S, we find evidence of the PIE word in English shrink, Lithuanian skrieti "to circle, revolve" and, perhaps, Latin scrinium "letter box". Without the Fickle S, we find Latin circus "circle" and curvos "bent, crooked", Greek kirkos "ring", English church (Scots English kirk). Greek korone "semicircular crown" and Latin corona "crown", from which Old French inherited corone, share the same source. English borrowed French corone and remodeled it into crown. (Today's fascinating if rather arcane Good Word was suggested by veteran word contributor William Hupy.)

Dr. Goodword,

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