Word of the Week! Efficacy

Brian Krach, enrolled in the Paralegal Studies Program of our School of Professional and Continuing Studies, nominated our word this week:

It is certainly familiar to me as a reference to medical trials; however, I was listening to a podcast where Jerry Muller, Professor of History at Catholic University, was a guest. He made the following statement:

“Its not that I deny the problem, its that I am skeptical of the efficacy of the proposed solution.”

Note the fine-grained level of meaning in Professor Muller’s statement. The OED Online provides a concise entry, with our earliest usage cited as 1527. The first definition, “the power or capacity to produce effects” shows that not all solutions and not all medicines, however well intended they may be, are guaranteed to be efficacious for a particular problem.

Peruse the OED entry to see a few obsolete definitions, all about effects, one coming from John Locke. One aside: As I continue to look at the etymology of our Words of the Week, I wonder what happened in the 15th and 16th Centuries to give us the first recorded uses of so many words. Then I come up with a two-part answer: “Gutenberg” and “Renaissance.”

This blog will continue all summer, so nominate a word by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Words of the Week here.