• talisman •
Pronunciation: tæ-liz-mên • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A carved or inscribed object believed to protect the wearer from evil and/or give him special powers. 2. Anything thought to have magic powers.
Notes: This is a strikingly odd English word, given its history, so it is surprising that it has relatives. But there they are: an adjective, talismanic, and an adverb, talismanically. These suffixes imply that today's Good Word is Latin, but so far as we know the word didn't exist in Latin. We even can find the legitimate if rare form talismanist "someone who believes in talismans".
In Play: Talismans can protect you from evil: "Horace Cope is selling talismans that are supposed to protect you from the next round of layoffs." They can also bring you good luck like a lucky charm: "Horace also has a talisman that he claims will increase your chances of winning the lottery."
Word History: Today's Good Word has been around. We copied it from French talisman, Spanish talisman, or Portuguese talismã. These Romance languages borrowed it from Arabic tilsam (plural tilsaman). Arabic nicked the word from Byzantine Greek telesma "talisman, religious rite". Earlier meanings of this word include "consecration, ceremony", but it originally meant "completion". It comes from telein "to perform (religious rites), fulfill" based on telos "completion of a cycle". Whew! Are you still with me? Now, Greek somehow got telos out of PIE kwel- "turn, rotate, circle", the source of English wheel from Old English hweol through the regular conversion of [k] to [h]. The Slavic word kolo "wheel (dance)" shares the same origin. (William Hupy must have a talisman that brings him good luck in finding fascinating expressions like today's Good Word, which he was kind enough to share with us.)