Word of the Week: Domestic

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Domestic is a must-know word for any number of subjects from history to economics. It's an adjective, used to describe what goes on in individual households or families (See sentences 1, 3 and 4). It can also be used to describe a country's internal—as opposed to foreign—affairs (See sentence 2). When applied to animals, it means they are tame. They are capable of living with or close to human homes (See sentence 5).

  1. Catherine Beecher left novel writing to her sister Harriet.* Catherine's goal was to teach a generation of nineteenth-century women the domestic arts essential to managing a household.
  2. As a journalist, Russian reporter Anna Politkovskaya was well-informed about both foreign and domestic affairs. But it was her focus on Russia's foreign affairs, particularly the occupation of Chechnya, which got her killed.
  3. Domestic violence is a social problem that crosses all classes.
  4. The comedian Roseanne Barr liked to say that before she did standup, she was a domestic goddess.
  5. No one knows when wild dogs became domestic pets.

*Harriet Beecher Stowe insisted that God wrote her famous novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, which turned many members of the reading public against the institution of slavery.

Memory Pegs. The word domestic is derived from the Latin word domus meaning "house." Tell yourself that the words house and homeland are at the heart of the word domestic. Perhaps link the word to images of a house and a map of your own country.

Specialized Use in Economics or Business. In the term Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the word domestic is used to describe an entire country or homeland rather than an individual house. The GDP identifies the market value of a nation's total output of goods and services. It measures how much is produced in a single country. In 2008, the United States had a GDP of over thirteen hundred billion dollars. The size of the GDP is said to be a good indicator of a country's economic health.

Specialized Use in History. If you study American history, you are likely to learn about the cult of domesticity, which defined the role of women in the nineteenth century. According to the cult of domesticity, true women stayed in the house and confined themselves to the roles of wife and mother. Needless to say, the cult only applied to middle- or upper-class women, who could afford to stay home.

Comprehension Checks

1. Given what you know about the word domestic, which of these sentences uses it correctly?

The war had left the domestic economy in shambles.
She had a very domestic attitude toward her job and was determined to climb to the top of her profession.
The general had an openly domestic attitude toward women, which showed she didn't think much of their abilities. This attitude allowed her to see herself as an exception.
He tried to domestic the dog, making him fierce and eager to fight.

2. The famed movie director Alfred Hitchcock said this about murder: "Some of our most exquisite murders have been domestic, performed with tenderness in simple, homey places like the kitchen table."

In your own words, what did he mean by that?

3. Could a gangland shooting be categorized as a type of domestic crime?

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Last update of this page: March 22, 2014