• transmogrify •
Pronunciation: trænz-mah-grê-fai • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb
Meaning: To change completely into something utterly different.
Notes: Today's word apparently started out as a joke, but has since lost its humorous tilt. Today it is a legitimate member of the English vocabulary, though the Oxford English Dictionary claims it is "vulgar or humorous"—can't decide which. This verb leaves the door open for an abstract noun, transmogrification which, my spellchecker just informed me, has already been discovered. But several adjectives are also available, such as transmogrificational and transmogrifiable.
In Play: The -mogrify in this word connotes something rather scary, so this word is often associated with a change for the worse: "When Dr. Jekyll took his potion, it transmogrified him into the monster, Mr. Hyde." However, don't be frightened to use it in other contexts; just avoid using it to indicate slight changes: "Cocoons transmogrify caterpillars into beautiful butterflies."
Word History: The best guess yet is that today's Good Word is a humorous mispronunciation of trans- + modify. In fact, the word transmodify exists, and may have been contemporary to transmogrify. The prefix trans- is used in two other words with essentially the same meaning as today's word: transform and transmute, so its appearance in our word comes as no great surprise. It is in fact a Latin prefix: trans- "across, through". It comes from the same Proto-Indo-European source as English through and thorough. It is also the source of English thrill, for in Old English thyrlian meant "pierce (through)". The noun from this verb, thyrel, meant "hole", and ended up in nostril. (This word was originally suggested by Chris Stewart, but when Perry Lassiter suggested it again recently, I decided to rewrite it and propose a different origin.)