• cynosure •
Pronunciation: si-nê-shUr or sai-nê-shUr • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. (The Cynosure) The constellation Ursa Minor or the North Star, which lies within it. 2. Anything that guides, leads, or provides guidance. 3. The focal point or center of attention.
Notes: Today's Good Word is strikingly beautiful, especially when pronounced [si-nê-shUr]. Milton could not ignore it; in L'Allegro (1645) he wrote, "Where perhaps some Beauty lies, The Cynosure of neighbouring eyes." Our British cousins do not palatalize the final syllable but pronounce it [si-nê-sjur], though they are careless about that final [r]. There is an adjective, cynosural, not to mention an adverb, cynosurally, either of which you might also enjoy.
In Play: Cynosure is usually associated with something or someone lustrous and attractive: "The silver evening gown in which Letitia lilted down the stairs made her the immediate cynosure of the party." But we can widen the meaning, as well, since the word originally referred to a constellation used to find direction: "Seamus Allgood's house is of such bizarrely eccentric design that it serves as the cynosure for all the other homes in his neighborhood."
Word History: Today's beautiful word started out long ago as a Greek word of considerably less beauty: kynosoura "dog-tail", a compound noun comprising kuon, kynos "dog" + oura "tail". The Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root kwon-, from which kuon derives, also gave rise to English hound and Latin canis "dog". Latin canis, in turn, is the source of English canine and the Canary in "Canary Islands". The name of these islands was originally Latin Canariae Insulae "Islands of Dogs" and English simply adapted the spelling in borrowing it. We must be careful with the PIE root *ors- "tail" which produced the second constituent in Greek. In English it became the naughty word for the human rear end; the British pronunciation even remains close to the original. The roots of today's Good Word reveal an impressive historical span from the profane to the celestial.
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