Printable Version
Pronunciation: kên-trait Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Feeling absolutely sincere regret for our offenses, whole-heartedly remorseful for wrongdoing.

Notes: The sense of contrite is regret in its most extreme form. It comes with an adverb, contritely, and two nouns, the rather awkward contriteness and the more sophisticated contrition ([kên-trish-ên]).

In Play: Today's Good Word expresses extreme remorse: "The senator, caught in an affair with a lover he tried to strangle, offered a contrite apology for his behavior." It also refers to extreme penitence: "The word penitentiary was chosen because the hopes of those who contrived penitentiaries was to teach those incarcerated in them penitence if not even contrition."

Word History: Contrite was taken from Old French contrite, the feminine form of contrit, inherited from Latin contritus, literally "exhausted, worn out, ground down". By Late Latin the sense had softened to "penitent". Contritus is the past participle of conterere "to grind", comprising an assimilated form of com "(together) with" + terere "to rub", from the PIE root tere- "to rub, grind; turn, drill", whence also Russian teret' "to rub, grind, bore (drill)". In English this word underlies English thresh, thrash, and turn. The last word was borrowed from Old French torner, inherited from Latin tornare "to turn on a lathe". English also borrowed Old French atorne, the past participle of atorner "to appoint, to assign to" from a(d) "(up) to + torner "to turn". English converted the Old French word to attorney.

Dr. Goodword,

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