DELETERIOUS [del-i-TEER-ee-uh s]: harmful, injurious (especially to health)


There’s no reason to believe that the glyph to the right needs explanation.  We have come to live in a period of time when the circle with a delete sign through it means “no whatever.”  In this case, the cigarette with a delete sign needs no words beneath it.  It means no smoking.   To ignore it is a violation, in some cases the breaking of a law

The rationale for the display of this sign is not complicated.  Oh, there are practical issues like messiness and foul odors.   But the primary reason a building carries this display is to make note of the fact that smoking (and the intake of secondary smoke) is deleterious to one’s health.

That is to say, it is a danger to one’s health and is acknowledged by science to be a contributor to such diseases as lung cancer.  The time is long past when this was controversial as a scientific understanding.  It may carry some social issues with it, such as the belief that “no one has a right to tell me what I can or cannot do.”   But with the scientific recognition that secondary smoke is almost as dangerous as primary smoke, even that argument is worthless.

Deleterious is an ancient Greek adjective  (δηλητήρ)   meaning “destroyer. “  Interestingly, the word in its first person sentence  form takes on the meaning of “I hurt.”  It becomes a simple task, therefore, to apply it to all kinds of health-related issues, such as obesity, over-exposure to the sun’s rays, and stooping to pick something up with out bending one’s knees.

But health is not the only forum in which the word deleterious has a function.

  • In politics, it can be said that loose supervision of one’s campaign funds can be deleterious to one’s being perceived as honest or dishonest.
  • In academics, failure to do proper research can be deleterious to one’s full understanding of a complex issue.
  • In writing, the choice to not read as well as write is known to be deleterious to one’s ability to express one’s self.
  • In sports, choosing not to exercise or practice is deleterious to one’s career.
  • In music, the decision not to practice is deleterious to one’s being a performer at Carnegie Hall.
  • And texting while driving is deleterious to one’s safety…and the safety of others on the road.

There is a degree of certainty in the use of the word deleterious. It would be unusual to say that “smoking may be deleterious to one’s health.”   In only very rare circumstances has a chronic smoker avoided disease.

The use of the word deleterious is much more common than one might imagine such a long and complicated word to be.  Because it is so easy to employ and understand in everyday circumstances, it is heard in normal conversations, advertisements, media messages, speeches, and written articles.


Glyph credit:  Wikipedia Commons

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