January 09, 2012
ordeal (noun)
\or-DEEL\ Hear it!
What does it mean?
: a severe test or experience
How do you use it?
Getting used to homework and studying again after the holiday break is quite an ordeal.
Are you a word wiz?

There is a meaning of "ordeal" that was earlier than the "severe test or experience" meaning. What do you think that earlier meaning referred to?

You passed this test if you answered A. Back in the Middle Ages, if you were suspected of wrongdoing, you had the opportunity to prove your innocence by undergoing an ordeal. These were usually painful and dangerous tests (such as holding a red-hot iron or putting your hand in boiling water), and if you somehow survived them without injury, people believed a supernatural power was proclaiming your innocence. And you thought your homework was bad! Ordeals eventually fell out of use in the 1700s, but by that time, the extended sense we use today had already come into use.
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