What does syncretic 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: syncretic.

I have a reasonably large vocabulary so it sometimes surprises me to stumble across a word I don’t know. The latest? Syncretic.

Journalist and well known author Adam Gopnik (pictured above) used it in a Feb. 17/14 New Yorker piece on faith and atheism, headlined “Bigger Than Phil.” Here is the sentence in which he used it:

They have some syncretic mixture of rituals: they polish menorahs or decorate Christmas trees, meditate upon the great beyond say a silent prayer, light candles to the darkness.

This adjective refers to the attempted reconciliation or union of different or opposing principles, practices or parties in philosophy or religion. And the word’s etymology? It dates back to 1610 and originates from what’s described as Neo-Latin, which in turn comes from the Greek synkrētismós meaning a union of Cretans, i.e., a united front of two opposing parties against a common foe. Interestingly, the word syncretize (to form a confederation) comes from the same root.