Printable Version
Pronunciation: kahng-kêr Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: 1. To defeat and subdue, as to conquer a neighboring country. 2. To overcome something powerful, as to conquer your fear of surfing (the waves or the Web).

Notes: Today's Good Word has a large and healthy family. Someone who conquers is a conqueror (remember it ends in -or, not -er). The act of conquering is known as a conquest. The adjective is simply the present participle, as in the conquering heroes. Anything that may be conquered is conquerable because it exhibits conquerability.

In Play: We generally think of conquests in terms of one nation's forcing its will on another: "In its three Afghan Wars of 1839-1842, 1878-1880, and 1919, the British army failed miserably to conquer Afghanistan." However, we are forever faced with things to conquer on the local, even on the personal level: "If William Arami doesn't conquer his fear of women, he will never be able to conquer the heart of June McBride."

Word History: Today's Good Word is the English version of Old French conquerre "to conquer", from Latin conquirere "to acquire, procure". This word is made up of com-, used here as an intensive prefix + quaere "to look for, seek". The semantic route, as you can see, is a long and deteriorating one: from asking, to getting what you want, to taking what you want by force. The basic root of quaere, by the way, is that of the interrogative pronouns, qui "who, what", quo "where", and the like. They came from an earlier Proto-Indo-European form kwo- that behaved exactly as we would expect in Germanic language, which is to say, the [k] became [h], giving us, in English who and what, pronounced [hwaht] in most dialects. (We thank Suzanne Williams for conquering whatever doubts might have assailed her and suggesting today's Good Word to us.)

Dr. Goodword,

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