• diadem •
Pronunciation: dai-ê-dem • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A bejeweled crown or headband worn to signify royalty or simply for adornment. 2. Any circular decoration or adornment worn on top of the head, as a diadem of cherry blossoms.
Notes: Today's word is pronounced pretty much like it is spelled and it is nearly a lexical orphan. It is denied that status by its ability to function as a verb meaning "to place a diadem on the head of", parallel to the verb to crown (someone). Thus a diademed lady is one wearing a circular piece of jewelry upon her now even lovelier head.
In Play: Diadem has been around long enough for its meaning to have dissolved a bit, to the point any circular object on the head may be a diadem: "Gwendolyn came in with a diadem of interlocked clover blossoms on her head." The default meaning, however, refers to a light crown of some precious metal encrusted with gems: "Marjorie, I'm glad that you appreciate the diadem I gave you for your birthday but I really feel uncomfortable when you wear it around the house."
Word History: Today's Good Word has gone from rags to riches—literally. It originally referred to a cloth headband but now it indicates a bejeweled crown. Like so many words in English, it can be traced back through French and Latin to Greek. The Greek word was diadema, a cloth fillet (=headband), bedecked with pearls or gems if worn as a sign of royalty. It originally referred to the regal purple fillet of Persian kings. It was then adopted by Alexander the Great as the white headband of Greek royalty. The word comes from the Greek verb diadeein "to bind around", based on dia "across, through" + deein "to bind". (Today we offer a diadem of gratitude to Helen Barrett for her suggestion of this glittering word for our series.)
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