Odd Words: Ataraxy


So we get page 16 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. Lots to work with, but I decided to go with a word that describes something I don’t often feel — at least not without chemical help: ataraxy.

These Words Don’t Create Ataraxy

Before moving on to our great word for today, let’s discuss some of the others. One word is really stupid: astromancy. It seems that every page in this dictionary has a word for prophecy based on something. I’m looking forward to “collagenmancy,” which is prophecy by overly large lips. Anyway, a much better word is “asperity.” The dictionary claims it is a sharpness of manner. But better dictionaries tend to use the word “harshness” rather than “sharpness.”

“Asthenia” is also defined rather differently, depending on where you look. I like our dictionary’s definition, “relating to or denoting a physical type characterized by a tall, narrow, lean build.” Merriam-Webster claims it is relating to a lack of strength. Rather different, I think. But that’s the thing about words: they mean lots of things. The complete Oxford English Dictionary is 20 volumes long! Or as Hamlet put it in his vague petulance, “Words, words, words.”

Anyway, on to ataraxy:

At·a·rax·i·a  noun  \at-ə-‘rak-se-ə\

1. a calm and tranquil state free from anxiety.

Date: early 17th century.

Origin: French from Greek, απάθεια, which means apathy more or less.

Example: Zinedine Zidane’s aura and ataraxy with a ball on a football pitch is renowned throughout the world.Rahul Bali

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Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

2 thoughts on “Odd Words: Ataraxy

  1. Surely this refers to the word ‘apathy’ itself:
    “Origin: French from Greek, απάθεια, which means apathy more or less”
    a transliteration of that Greek being ‘apatheia’.

    The OED has
    Etymology: < Greek ἀταραξία impassiveness, < ἀ priv. + ταράσσειν to disturb, stir up. Compare French ataraxie (Cotgrave).

    • When I was researching it, I found a number of definitions — all meaning roughly “apathy.” Thus: “more or less.”

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