Word of the Day

: May 20, 2024


adjective FYOO-tul

What It Means

An effort, action, or emotion described as futile has no result or effect, and therefore serves no useful purpose.

// City officials attempted to stifle the scandal, but their efforts were futile.

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futile in Context

“... when resolve is wearing thin and hope feels futile, sometimes the only thing left to do is laugh.” — Cassidy George, Rolling Stone, 10 Feb. 2023

Did You Know?

Attempts to pinpoint the first use of the phrase “resistance is futile” may ultimately be futile—that is, pointless or in vain—but that hasn’t stopped folks from trying. Popular in movies and television series from Star Trek to Stargate, Veronica Mars to Napoleon Dynamite, the slogan is often uttered by an antagonist who wants to make it clear in no uncertain terms that they will be the one to prevail in the onscreen struggle. Some people point to a 1976 episode of Doctor Who in which a character called The Master says “Resistance is futile now,” while others prefer the quote without the now, holding up a 1977 episode of Space: 1999 as being the first to feature it. However, author Randall Garrett had both shows beat in his 1961 short story “The Highest Treason,” in which a character says “Not if they … can prove that resistance is futile.” Despite its clear importance to futuristic science fiction, however, the word futile has ancient roots. It comes from the Latin adjective fūtilis/futtilis, which was used to describe things that are brittle or fragile and, by extension, serve no purpose. These meanings survive in the English word futile, which denotes ineffectiveness.

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