Word of the Day: Ostracize

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Ostracize means to exclude someone from society or from any group of people. It comes from the Greek ostrakízein, which was the practice of banishing citizens by popular vote.

Yet there is still a woeful reluctance in Africa to chastise, ostracise or help to oust villainous leaders, such as Mr Mugabe or Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir, who has been indicted as a war criminal at The Hague; indeed, too many African leaders have rejected that court altogether. (The Economist)

Nicholas D. Kristof reports on rape survivors in eastern Congo struggling to recover from violence and trauma in the face of customs that blame and ostracize the victims. (NY Times)

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5 thoughts on “Word of the Day: Ostracize”

  1. Interesting word—“Ostracize”. Although not mentioned in today’s Writing Tip—I remember that the word “Ostrov” in Russian means “Island.”
    So to ostrasize someone— a Russian, at least— is to be insular towards him—to put him on an island. And of course, the word “insular” also means ‘island”.

    Language is interesting—No? 🙂


  2. Ostracize comes from an ancient Athenian practice of banishment. Citizens who thought someone should be banished wrote the name of the undesirable on a potsherd or broken piece of tile. If enough bits accumulated, the targeted person was banished for a period of ten years.
    Greek ostrakon, “tile, potsherd.” 🙂

  3. There’s even an interesting anecdote on ostracism. They say that Aristeides, an Athenian strategos, also known as “The Just”, was ostracized in 482. He was approached by an illiterate citizen and asked to write the name Aristeides on an ostrakon, his own name and not somebody elses mind you! In return, he inquired as to why the man wanted Aristeides banished and the man repplied starkly “I’m sick of hearing everyone calling him the Just”.

    Dont know how this illustrates the meaning of the word better than the previous explanation, but it’s rather funny and I wanted to share it.

  4. I remember this word!
    I first came across Ostrakizein back in elementary school during an unbelievably boring hour of ancient Greek History and felt so sorry for Aristides when our teacher told us the story of his ostracizing. I remember myself being so interested so as to look up from the fairy I had been working on my History book’s margins -something that didn’t go unnoticed by Mrs. Polly,our teacher, who commented humorlessly on it.
    Oh, the good, old days, when we didn’t have to read to get good grades… (hey, that rhymes! :D)
    Anyway, great choice for Word of the Day!

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