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LITHE

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LITHE

Postby Dr. Goodword » Thu Sep 15, 2005 10:45 pm

• lithe •

Pronunciation: laydh • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Gracefully slender; supple, flexible, easily bent or flexed, as a lithe willow withe. 2. Graceful, moving and bending supply and gracefully, as a lithe dancer.

Notes: Perhaps the best example of something lithe is a withe, a switch or supple branch from a tree, such as a willow. Withe, however, is pronounced in radically different ways: either as [with] or [widh] (hard or soft "th"). The comparative and superlative forms of today's word are lither and lithest, and the noun is litheness. This Good Word has a synonymous variant, lithesome which, for some reason known only to my ear, I prefer: a lithesome dancer lilting fragilely across the stage.

In Play: When you think of subtle flexibility, today's Good Word should come to mind: "Amanda was as lithe slipping in and out of conferences at the office as she was in moving across a dance floor." Not surprisingly, the meaning of this word is itself quite lithe, making it easily adjusted to a wide range of situations: "Phillipa Bird was accustomed to uttering phrases so lithe they could fit any position on an issue."

Word History: Today's Good Word is another of those words with a 'fickle N', an [n] that comes and goes for reasons that still escape us. The original PIEroot was something like *len-t- "soft". Old English líðe "mild, flexible" eschewed the [n] while German kept it in lind "gentle, soothing, dulcet". Latin also retained the [n] in its adjective lentus "pliant, flexible" and Russian kept the [n] while dropping the [t], producing in len' "slowness, laziness". (Today we thank Christine Casalini, a writer/editor in Boston, Massachusetts, for reminding us of this very lovely English word that slips so lithely across our tongues.)
Last edited by Dr. Goodword on Sat Sep 17, 2005 5:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby tcward » Fri Sep 16, 2005 11:01 am

I take it English linen and lint are also related...?

-Tim
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Postby M. Henri Day » Fri Sep 16, 2005 1:40 pm

Thanks, Dr G, for reminding us of this supple word !...

Henri
曾记否,到中流击水,浪遏飞舟?
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Linen & Lint

Postby Dr. Goodword » Sat Sep 17, 2005 3:00 pm

Ooops! Sllight but misleading typo.

The root of "lithe" would rather be "len-t- and not *lin-t (cf. Latin lenis "soft, supple"). Lint was originally linnet and referred to gauze. Linseed shares the same source. This word does share the same origin as linen, probably *lino-, given Latin linum "flax, linen".
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