• acolyte •
Pronunciation: æ-kê-lait • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A young person who assists a priest during a religious ceremony; an altar boy or (since 1983) an altar girl. 2. An attendant, follower, or supporter.
Notes: This word is so closely associated with the Church that it always carries a faint intimation of religious service. So, it should be used only where this intimation is comfortable, in connection with an activity resembling a ritual. It has a qualitative noun, acolyteship "the position or office of an acolyte", and an adjective, acolytic.
In Play: As mentioned just above, today's Good Word is used mostly in church: "When he noticed the old man's head nodding sleepily and drool running from the corner of his mouth, the acolyte guffawed in the middle of the ceremony." However, it may be used in reference to any attendant in a ritualistic ceremony: "The company president arrived with a retinue of acolytes, who busied themselves with seeing that the interview went without a hitch."
Word History: Acolyte comes directly from Medieval Latin acolytus; English only brushed off the case ending. Acolytus, in its turn, was borrowed by Latin from Greek akolouthos "accompanying, attendant (on)", literally "having the same path", based on a- "together with" + keleuthose "way, road, path". The ultimate source of the Greek word is the rare Proto-Indo-European word keleu- "to wander; path", as seen in Lithuanian keliáuju "trip, journey" from kelias "way". (Thank you, Susan Ardith, for another excellent Good Word suggestion.)