Word: putative

Pronunciation: PYOO-tə-tiv

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: generally considered or reputed to be

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Okay, so this is a little embarrassing to admit, but I learned today’s Word of the Week from a minor mistake I made in an early draft of my thesis. While citing references for cases of transatlantic larval dispersal in reef fish, I included a species that had only been speculated – but not confirmed – to display this trait. I didn’t notice the mistake until my professor told me to double-check the reference, at which point I realized that I had missed the single word that changed the entire meaning of the sentence. Lesson learned: there’s a world of difference between a confirmed quality and a “putative” quality!

A “putative” person, place, thing, or idea is reputed or generally considered to be said person, place, thing, or idea. The word arose in late Middle English and comes from the Old French adjective putatif, which in turn derives from the Latin adjective putativus, meaning “thought” or “supposed”. This adjective stems from the verb putare, which means “to think”.

As the above example demonstrates, the word “putative” is useful for defining what is generally thought to be something without any hard proof to support the claim. I assume it works best in the context of an idea that at least can easily be accepted as truth based on evidence, though this might not always be the case. If your stories include details that aren’t confirmed to be true (at least by your characters), “putative” may be a good word to keep on your list!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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