What does ‘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…

I read the Ben Lerner novel The Topeka School for three reasons. First, I’d enjoyed his earlier novel, Leaving The Atocha Station and found it be both well written and amusing. Second, the Topeka School had received rave reviews and a number of awards including the Los Angles Book Prize and it had been named one of the New York Times top 10 books of the year.

But, finally, the biggest appeal was that the main character was a high school debater. I volunteer as a debate coach and I’d never before seen this admittedly nerdy activity take centre stage in a novel.

While I didn’t enjoy the book quite as much as I’d hoped, I was pleased it gave me some words of the week, including today’s, hortatory. Here is how Lerner used it:

The classrooms, with their hortatory posters, BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE, their rows of empty desks, equations or dates or stock phrases left on chalk- or dry-erase boards, made Adam think of abandoned theatrical sets of photographs of Chernobyl.

It turns out, the term means encouraging or urging to some course of conduct or action. In other words, it means intending to exhort. (I really should have seen that root in there!)

The word dates back to the 1580s, and comes from the French hortatoire which in turn comes directly from Late Latin hortatorius meaning, “encouraging, cheering,” from hortatus, past participle of hortari “exhort, encourage, urge, incite, instigate.”

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