Today’s Word Nerd was a gift from Fox News, via Facebook. One of my friends posted an article about a Fox story on homeless panhandlers, and it included a screenshot. There for all the world to see was a laughably bungled word choice: “Donors should be weary of who they give money.” (Not to mention the display of poor grammar.)
The word they are looking for is wary. This is one of those rare cases where two similar words have nearly opposite meanings.
Wary: on guard, watchful; cautious; alert to possible dangers.
Weary: tired; fatigued; exhausted; worn out; sleepy.
Wary is a variation of ware, which is the old version of aware. Wary first shows up in its present form in the mid-1500s; it comes from Old English waer, meaning careful, aware, wary; related to Old Saxon and Old High German giwar, which means aware, attentive; and ultimately from the Latin vereri to fear.
Weary originates before 900; it comes from the Middle English wery, which in turn comes from the Old English werig. It’s related to the Old High German wuarag, which means drunk, and to the Old English worian, which means to crumble.
If you say you are a wary traveler; you’re saying that you pay attention and don’t take risks when you’re away from home.
If you say you are a weary traveler, you’re saying you’re tired and want to go home.