Monday, November 03, 2003

Etymology Today from M-W: impugn \im-PYOON\
: to assail by words or arguments
: oppose or attack as false or lacking integrity

When you impugn, you hazard repugnant pugnacity. More simply put, you risk insulting someone to the point where he or she wants to sock you. The belligerent implications of "impugn" are to be expected in a word that derives from the Latin verb "pugnare," which means "to fight." In its earliest known English uses in the 1300s, "impugn" could refer to a physical attack (as in "the troops impugned the city") as well as to figurative assaults involving verbal contradiction or dispute. Over time, though, the sense of physical battling has become obsolete and the "calling into question" sense has predominated. As you might expect, the ancestors of "impugn" also gave English other fighting words, including "repugnant" and "pugnacious."

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