Source: Oxford Dictionaries
Amy: Perhaps you could assuage your guilt through altruism. (pause as Penny looks confused) Which word’s tripping you up? Assuage or altruism?
Bernadette: You’ll feel better by doing something nice for someone.
Penny: I actually knew that.
Amy: I never doubted you.
– The Big Bang Theory, (Season 5, Episode 11- The Speckerman Recurrence)
The above dialogue was taken from an episode of The Big Bang Theory, when Penny realizes a certain truth about herself of which she wasn’t aware until her friends brought the subject to her attention: she was a bully in high school. In light of this revelation, Bernadette and Amy suggest she do charity work in order to ease the guilt she starts to feel over the suffering she caused her peers as a teenager, a fact she claims to have already known (though not quite in the same sophisticated manner as her biologist friends).
To “assuage” a bad feeling is to ease it, thus making it less unpleasant. When referring specifically to a wish or appetite, to “assuage” it means to satisfy it. The word can be traced back to the Old French verb assouagier (“appease, calm”), which is based on the Latin roots ad- “to” and suavis “pleasant, sweet”.
This verb is one of several synonyms for “alleviate”, though each seems to have its own specific uses. While “relieve” suggests reducing discomfort to a tolerable level and “allay” is often used to demonstrate a negative emotion (as in fear or suspicion) being put to rest, “assuage” implies an achievement of satisfaction on a greater or more permanent scale. Therefore, I would suggest using the word in reference to the relief of unpleasant feelings that are relatively more intense, such as the guilt that drove Penny to call an old bullying victim of hers and apologize to her for pranks mistakenly thought to have been all in good fun. Whether used to express alleviation of strong emotions or of simple desires, “assuage” is a good verb to consider when seeking the best word on the “relieve” spectrum for your writing. Use it well!
What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?