What does the word ‘hortatory’ mean?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: hortatory….

When I read the word hortatory in a June 3/19 New Yorker piece, my mind immediately went to my French homework.

I spend at least 30 minutes every night working to improve my French and a recent word has been les horaires, meaning schedule. Could hortatory have any relationship to horaires I wondered? Turns out, it can’t.

The piece, written by written by Pulitizer Prize winner William Finnegan and running under the headline, “Can Beto Bounce Back?” used the word in the following way:

Hayes plied O’Rourke with friendly questions about the plan. His answers had a hortatory, soapbox quality, as if he were trying to be heard over waterfalls, or not quite comfortable in the give-and-take of a televised interview conducted via satellite.

Hortatory is an adjective meaning, “tending or aiming to exhort.” Of course! I should have thought of that right away. Interestingly, though, the etymology of the word shows it to be French, dating back to the 1580s. It comes from Middle French hortatoire which in turn comes from Late Latin hortatorius meaning “encouraging, cheering.” 

Now considered a somewhat obscure word, hortatory is typically used in legal or governmental contexts. But the photo above, showing a begging dog, clearly shows a more casual definition of the term.