• vortex •
Pronunciation: vor-teks • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A powerful spiral current of liquid or gas that sucks everything toward its center, such as a whirlpool or tornado. 2. A situation or circumstance that draws everything and/or everyone around it toward itself.
Notes: We have our choice of plural forms for today's Good Word: vortexes or vortices, like index-indices. The adjective for this word is vortical, and the adverb vortically. This word has been in the news lately as the polar (arctic) vortex dipped down into the US, causing extremely cold temperatures here. Winds move in a circular direction around the North Pole—in a vortical motion, if you will.
In Play: Any kind of whirlpool counts as a vortex: "Lucinda Head watched helplessly as her wedding ring disappeared into the vortex of dishwater draining from the kitchen sink." To use the word figuratively, however, only the sucking action is necessary: "Barry Moore's acting career ended when he was drawn into the vortex of Hollywood nightlife."
Word History: Today's word was drawn from Latin vortex, vortic-, a variant of vertex "whirlpool, swirl" from vertere "to turn, twist". This word was wor-/wer- "turn, bend" in Proto-Indo-European. This root turns up in many derivations in all Indo-European languages. In English we find it in every word ending on -vert, borrowed from Latin: convert, invert, avert. English also inherited the root from Old Germanic as wreath, writhe, and wrath, a turn for the worse. English weird came from Middle English werde "fate", a peculiar turn of events. It is even prominent in Russian vertet' "to turn, spin", and German as werden "to become", which meant "to turn (into)" in Old Germanic.