• eidolon •
Pronunciation: ai-do-lên • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A ghost, apparition, or phantom. 2. A mental vision of an ideal.
Notes: The adjective of today's word is eidolic, a distant cousin of eidetic, as eidetic memory "photographic memory". Both words deal with mental images that seem real. If you prefer plain talk, you may pluralize this word with an S: eidolans. If you are an eidoloclast (iconoclast) who enjoys the vagaries of the English irregular plurals, you may use the Greek plural, eidola.
In Play: Most of us enjoyed the company of eidolons with whom we chatted when no one else was around during our childhood: "My son seems to enjoy the company of mischievous eidolons who are constantly getting him into trouble." Though eidolons are phantomatic, our mental phantoms do serve purposes: "Americans are currently trying to match their eidolon of an effective president to the current candidates for that office."
Word History: Greek eidolon comes from the noun eidos "form, image" plus an old suffix -l and a noun ending. When Latin borrowed eidolon, it dropped the Greek ending and also the initial E, leaving idol, an image of an ideal. Now, Greek eidos came from the Proto-Indo-European root weid- "to see". This root also went directly into Latin and emerged as video "I see", with the first person present endings. The root of this word turns up in many words borrowed from Latin or whose makeup includes Latin components: vision, television, and visor are just three. The same root weid- also made its way into Germanic languages where it became Old English wit "knowledge" (a meaning still present in witness) and German Wissen "knowledge". (We are happy that Sue Gold shares her wit and knowledge of words like today's with us, for such words are among the most delightful of our mental eidolons.)
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