• cornucopia •
Pronunciation: kor-nyê-kop-ee-yê • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A horn of plenty, a horn spilling fruit and nuts. 2. A surfeit, plethora, superfluity in great variety; a superabundance.
Notes: The original cornucopia was the horn of the goat Amalthea, which suckled Zeus, chief of the Olympian gods in ancient Greek religion. The horn broke off and began to spill forth fruit. Today it is a common symbol for Thanksgiving in the US, since that day originally celebrated the first Harvest Home for the settlers of Plymouth, Massachusetts. The adjective, should you need one, is cornucopian.
In Play: Cornucopia today refers to anything available in superabundance and, usually, variety: "My neighbor has such a cornucopia of tools I find it more convenient to borrow them than buy my own." In its literal sense, it generally refers to holiday decoration: "The table was decorated with a cornucopia of plastic fruit and vegetables, some of which, judging by the taste of it, went into the meal."
Word History: Today's word is yet another Latin one, this one created from the phrase cornu copiae "horn of plenty." Latin cornu "horn" comes from the same Proto-Indo-European root as English horn and is related to Greek karoton "carrot", a horn-like vegetable. Another variant of the same root emerges as Greek kranion "skull," which Latin converted to cranium before lending it to us. The rein in reindeer comes from Old Norse hreinn "reindeer" of the same origin. The same root, less the [n], underlies the sar in Hindi sardar "person of high rank" from Persian sar "head" + dar "holder". Hebrew, a Semitic language, borrowed sar from Persian in the sense of "minister", and also uses it in the proper name, Sarah or Sara.