What does ‘irenic’ mean?

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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: irenic….

I feel especially happy whenever I discover a word I’ve never seen before. What can it possibly mean, I wonder? And what are the origins of that word?

Vinson Cunningham, a writer for the New Yorker, gave me such a word: irenic. Here is how he used it in an April 16/18 story running under the digital headline, “Will Pope Francis Cause a Schism in the Catholic Church.”

In his position at the Times, [Ross] Douthat is an essentially, if covertly, evangelistic writer, and he is most convincing when his tone is irenic, funny, and self-deprecating, and when he is willing to trade small, stubborn differences for broader agreements.

The word mystified me! Context gave me no clues and I was forced to head for my dictionary, where I learned the word means, “aiming or aimed at peace.”

The word dates back to the mid 19th century: from Greek eirēnikos, which in turn comes from eirēnē, meaning ‘peace.’ Earlier uses of the word (dating to 1834) refer to a branch of Christian theology concerned with reconciling different denominations and sects.

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on May 9/18.

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