What does “extirpated” mean?

Word count: 239 words

Reading time: About 1 minute

If you build your vocabulary, you’ll not only benefit your reading, you’ll also become more precise in your writing. Here is my word of the week.

As a former journalist, I am immeasurably cheered to see fellow scribes write novels. I remember when I heard that English novelist Faye Weldon (Life and Loves of a She-Devil) began her writing life in TV and radio, although, in truth, she actually began it in advertising. She once said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “I had to look myself in the mirror every day and say, ‘You are allowed to make things up.‘”

In Canada, where I live, well known investigative journalist Lindon MacIntyre has also turned himself into a successful novelist. Last year, I read and enjoyed The Bishop’s Man and this summer I tackled his provocatively named book Why Men Lie. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much but it still gave me my word of the week, extirpated. Here’s the sentence in which it appeared.

The system didn’t want the world to see this face, the face of an old, tired man, the violent passions in him long since extirpated.  

Extirpated means to be destroyed completely, wiped out, pulled out by the root or cut out by surgery. The word dates back to the early 15th century and comes from the Latin extirpare/exstirpare meaning to root out.

I think MacIntyre used this very strong word because “violent passions” is such a strong term itself. “Eliminated” seems too weak by comparison. And “wiped out” isn’t quite formal enough for his language.