Printable Version
Pronunciation: kaun-têr-vayl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: 1. To offset, to counterbalance, to compensate, to be of equal force or weight on the contrary side, to bring into balance. 2. To be of equal value.

Notes: If you cannot prevail (win), you want to at least countervail (tie). Sometimes a tie is a good thing; countervailing customs duties are duties imposed by one country to offset and balance duties imposed by the other country. The noun, like that of prevail, prevalence, is countervalence, and the adjective is countervalent, despite the major dictionaries' reluctance to list these words. Of course, you may use countervailing as both the adjective or noun, as the same dictionaries prescribe.

In Play: When I think of this word I mentally picture old-fashioned scales, like those the statue of Lady Justice holds: "The guy who crashed into Lydia Potts's car offered to countervail her loss by buying her a new one." Of course, countervalence is in the eye of the beholder: "The boss promises countervailing benefits to the salary cuts, things like new water fountains and nonskid stair steps."

Word History: Today's Good Word is a complex word comprising counter "opposing" + -vail from Old French valoir "be worthy, of value". French inherited the latter word from Latin valere "be strong, be well", a word whose root shows up in the English borrowed word valiant. Old Germanic had a word wald or walt which meant "power", but it remains only in personal names like Gruenwald and Oswald. The Proto-Indo-European word that went into the making of valere became wealdan "to rule" in Old English. Today that word is wield. Finally, this PIE word made a big impression on Russian. In Russian, after undergoing metathesis, it emerged as vlast' "power, force", and in the names Vladimir "rule the world" and Vladivostok "rule the East". (I am unsure of what would countervail forgetting to thank Jeremy Busch, a Grand Panjandrum in the Alpha Agora, for suggesting today's word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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