Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: scarify.

scarify. “Scarify” (from “scar”) means (1) “to make superficial marks or incisions in; cut off skin from”; (2) “to break up the surface of (the ground) with a spiked machine [a scarifier] for loosening soil or building roads”; or (3) “to pain by severe criticism.” Sense 1 is most common — e.g.: “Buy scarified Bahia grass seed to increase germination.” “What to Do This Month,” Tampa Tribune, 12 Apr. 2003, Baylife §, at 10. Sense 1 applies also to body adornment by cutting and scraping — e.g.: “Worse, once piercing becomes commonplace among people like, well, Leslie, the trendsetters up the ante with other forms of body alteration: cutting (scarification as adornment), branding (searing flesh with high heat in artistic patterns) and — please don’t eat during this next sentence — tongue splitting, in which the tongue is cleaved nearly in half so as to cause it to fork like a lizard’s.” Buzz McClain, “Is There a Ring in Your Future?” Wash. Post, 11 Feb. 2003, at F1. So goes the march of civilization. Sense 3 is also fairly common — e.g.: “With a combination of dazzling philosophical acumen and scarifying wit, Stove does for irrationalism in Karl Popper’s philosophy . . . what the Romans did for Carthage in the Third Punic War.” Roger Kimball, “Who Was David Stove?” New Criterion, Mar. 1997, at 21. A separate “scarify,” based on the root word “scare,” dates from the late 18th century but remains mostly dialectal. It often carries a lighthearted connotation. It would be helpful if the two words were pronounced differently, but dictionaries record no such distinction. Both are pronounced with the first syllable sounding like “scare”: /SKAIR-i-fI/. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “Fiction is to the grown man what play is to the child; it is there that he changes the atmosphere and tenor of his life.” Robert Louis Stevenson, Learning to Write 60 (1888; repr. 1920).
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