He was preternaturally shy…

Word count: 200 words

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

If you increase your vocabulary you’ll not only help your reading, you’ll also make your writing more precise. Here is my word of the week. 

Here is a word I’ve used many times without ever being 100% sure of its meaning (embarrassing, I know!) Preternaturally.

I most recently encountered it in a sentence from the book Out of the Blue by journalist Jan Wong, who was outlining her struggle with workplace depression. The sentence — “He was preternaturally shy but always friendly” — described the late Ken Thompson, former owner of the Globe and Mail newspaper who died in 2006 and was the richest man in Canada and the 9th richest in the world.

I’d always guessed that “preternaturally” meant  “unusually” but, (bad guess, Daphne!) it actually means something that appears outside or beside nature. The word dates back to the mid-13th century and emanates from the Latin phrase præter naturam meaning  “beyond nature.” Here’s how to remember it: It’s intended to contrast with the supernatural. Preternatural phenomena are presumed to have rational explanations that are unknown.

Moral of this story: Don’t use a word without first discerning its meaning!

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