• assassinate •
ê-sæs-sê-nayt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, transitive
Meaning: 1. To murder someone of stature in cold blood. 2. To calumniate, slander, as to assassinate someone's good name.
Notes: As a change of pace we decided today to send out a Bad Word instead of a good one. This word is so bad, it starts out with a bad word, repeats it to make sure we get it, has a heart of sin, and refers to one of the worst crimes a mortal can commit. How bad can a word get? However, since assassination does occasionally occur, we have to deal with its name. A person who assassinates is not an assassinator, as you might expect, but an assassin.
In Play: We witnessed terrible assassinations in the 20th century: US President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and Indian President Indira Gandhi among them. Keep in mind, though, this word can also be used in a metaphorical sense: "Political figures today are less interested in debating the issues than in assassinating the character of their opponents."
Word History: Today's word even has an appropriately unsavory past. It is a verb built upon the noun assassin, from French assassin or Italian assassino. The European languages borrowed this word from Arabic hashishiyy-in "hashish users", the plural of hashishiyy in the 13th century. The term originally referred to a fanatical anti-Christian Muslim sect at the time of the Crusades led by Hasan ibn-al-Sabbah, called Shaik-al-jibal "Old Man of the Mountains". Hasan undertook a program of killing and harassing the Christians, and his followers had the reputation of getting high on hashish before carrying out his orders. (Today we thank Berk Efe Altinal for pointing out this unsavory lexical contribution from Arabic to the English language.)