Thursday, December 11, 2014
Bill from Maple City asked about the word contrite. From the context of what he was reading, he figured that it meant sorry.
In popular use, that’s true, but it can also range up to an industrial-strength level of remorse. In its original sense, contrite referred to a physical state. It meant material that was crushed, broken, or worn by rubbing. It came into English from 12th century French. In turn, French had borrowed it from the Latin terere—to rub, crush, or grind.
In time, it took on a figurative sense, a type of spiritual erosion. It meant a spirit crushed or broken by the guilt of sinning, thus bringing a person to a penitent state and the possibility of reconciliation.
That same –trit- root shows up in other words. Examples include
· attrition: reduction in size or strength by wearing away and not replacing
· detritus: matter produced by the wearing away of exposed surfaces
· lithotrity: medical crushing of stone in the bladder
· obtrition: abrasion
· trite: worn out by constant use
triturate: to reduce to powder by rubbing, pounding, crushing, or grinding
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