1 : anxiety arising from awareness of guilt
2 : distress of mind over an anticipated action or result
3 : a twinge of misgiving : scruple
Did You Know?
An old proverb says "a guilty conscience needs no accuser," and it's true that the sting of a guilty conscience-or a conscience that is provoked by the contemplation of doing something wrong-can prick very hard indeed. The sudden guilty "prickings" of compunction are reflected in the word's etymological history. Compunction comes (via the Anglo-French compunction and the Middle English compunccioun) from the Latin compungere, which means "to prick hard" or "to sting." Compungere, in turn, derives from pungere, meaning "to prick," which is the ancestor of some other prickly words in English, such as "puncture" and even "point."
A diligent editor, Michelle feels no compunction about deleting words and phrases from even the most beautifully written paragraph for the sake of space or clarity.
"The council of generals who took power from Mr. Mubarak had feared a public backlash too much to ever allow the former president's release, but Mr. Sisi's government felt no such compunction, Mr. Bahgat said." - David D. Kirkpatrick and Merna Thomas, The New York Times, November 30, 2014
Test Your Vocabulary with M-W Quizzes
Word Family Quiz
What English relative of Latin pungere, meaning "to prick," begins with "p" and can mean "deeply affecting" or "being to the point"? The answer is …
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