Origins of Common Words - Radical

About the history, origins, and definitions of the common word radical.


Radical - Originally from the Latin radicalis, meaning "root," but the Anglo-Saxon rot was already firmly imbedded in the language when in the 14th century radical made its appearance. Root became the vernacular, and radical became its scientific counterpart. By the 18th century the word had acquired the additional meanings of "fundamental" and "thorough," and Samuel Johnson, apparently fond of the word, wrote variously of "radical vigour," "the radical idea," and "radical corruption." However, its political usage is generally attributed to Charles James Fox, who at the end of that century, with memories of American and French revolutions still fresh, declared that "radical reform" was necessary in Britain. Political agitators were derided as "radicals," i.e., "rooter-outers" of evil. But after the great Reform Bill of 1832 finally passed, reformers and radicals were "in" and accepted, if not exactly establishment. In this country the word has had a varied career, and radical, virtually the equivalent of "socialist" or "revolutionary," exists side by side with the term "radical right," indicating, of course, extreme right-wing politics.

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