July 17, 2013

Case File #013.07.17: NEMESIS

In Greek mythology, the goddess Nemesis is the personification of retribution, especially that doled out by divine decree to wicked or presumptuous mortals, and her name was used as a metonym for “righteous punishment” throughout ancient Greece. Thus, when nemesis was adopted by the English language around 1560, it initially meant “an act or agent of retribution or vengeance.” (This is, in fact, still one of the word's meanings, though it is not used as often now as it once was.) Within a couple of decades, however, the word took on the additional meaning of “any source of harm, ruin, or downfall,” and the now familiar sense in which nemesis refers to “a formidable and often unbeatable opponent” came into use around 1591.

©2013 Michael R. Gates

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