Tony Leighton is a Canadian writer happily retired and attempting to help others feel the same.

Vocabuteria: proselytize

[An ongoing feature designed to improve your vocabulary and mine.]

proselytize

This is a wordy kind of word that holds us hostage because we have to use it to get at the meaning. There are no synonyms. “Convert” falls short. “Proselytize” means "to induce someone to convert to one's faith” or cause. But it’s not the actual conversion. It's the inducing, preaching, persuading, and convincing, with conversion being an extra layer at the end, the intended recruitment to cause. So there’s an ideological flavour. There’s also a medicinal flavour, and a stubborn trigger, in my mind anyway, to picture an artificial limb. The difficulties with this word are undeniable. “Proselytize” is arduous both to say and spell. After all my time on Earth, and a love for language, I still find myself flummoxed when trying to spell it. (What is that? A brain tick?) Inelegant, unpronounceable, and rooted in the long-fossilized Late Latin “proselytus,” which refers to a stranger or “alien resident,” “proselytize” remains with us like the Horseshoe Crab, a durable loner with an important job. So we had better get used to it.

 

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