Word of the Day: internecine
origin: from an erroneous Latin translation by poet
Samuel Butler (see editors' note).
1. Of or relating to a struggle within a nation, an organization,
or a group.
"What was he thinking? Was he trying to catapult into the public
imagination as a different kind of Republican, in preparation for
a 2000 presidential bid? Some say that's the only way to explain
why he accused Helms of 'ideological extortion' and painted him-
self as a martyr for the cause of an open, inclusive GOP.
'Bill Weld has sounded a lot like Joan of Arc lately,' observed
The Weekly Standard, the magazine of record when it comes to
internecine Republican warfare."
--Jill Lawrence, in "USA Today" (September 11, 1997)
Commenting on former Massachusetts Governor William Weld's
ultimately unsuccessful attempt to be named ambassador to Mexico.
A fellow Republican, Senator Jesse Helms, blocked the nomination.
2. Mutually destructive, ruinous, or fatal to both sides.
3. Characterized by bloodshed or carnage.
In the late 1600s, poet Samuel Butler translated the Latin phrase
'internecinum bellum' ('war of extermination') as "internecine war",
coining the word. A century later, when lexicographer Samuel Johnson
included the word 'internecine' in his dictionary of the English
language, the lexicographer mistakenly assumed 'internecine' to mean
"endeavoring mutual destruction".
However, as Butler knew, the Latin "internecinus" means "to the death"
from "inter-", indicating the completion of an action, and "necare",
meaning "to kill.".
Although Noah Webster reintroduced the original "deadly or destructive"
meaning to the word some 70 years later, Johnson's definition had
already entered common usage -- and remains to this day.
Publish Date: 01/20/2011