Meritorious

The word meritorious defined by the OED means: “of actions: serving to earn reward; esp. in Theology, said of good works, penance, etc., as entitling to reward from God; productive of merit.” The first record of the word listed under this definition comes from HIdgen (Rolls) IV in 1432 – 50 and states, “The Pilgrimage made to thapostles was more meritorious to the sawle than the faste of ij. Yere.” The second definition of the word still describes and action; “Of an action or agent: That earns or deserves some specified good or evil.” The earliest example given for this definition comes from T. Norton Calvin’s Inst., “Pref., workes meritorious of eternall saluation.” The sub-definition of the word is, “meritorious cause: an action or agent that causes by meriting (some good or evil result). The third definition of meritorious is much like the first two in that it means, “deserving of reward or gratitude. Also (now usually) in vaguer use; Well-deserving; meriting commendation; having merit.” What is interesting about this definition is really the tiny print under it that reads, “In recent literary criticism the word tends to be a term of limited praise, applied, e.g., to work that is recognized as painstaking and useful, but does not call forth any special warmth of commendation.” So, in the actual definitions, meritorious sounds like a really good thing, but it’s actually more of just a pat on the back and a “good job.” The fourth definition of the word meritorious means, “bestowed in accordance with merit; merited.” And lastly, the fifth definition of meritorious: “In the sense of L. meritorious: That earns money (by prostitution).” I find it interesting that for this final definition, the spelling of the word changes. The example of this definition comes from 1636 used by B. Johnson: “Some love any Strumpet (be shee never so shop-like or meritorious) in good clothes.” Notice how the spelling of the word changes from the definition listed and the example given (interesting).

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