• neophyte •
Pronunciation: nee-ê-fait • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A recent convert to a belief, a novitiate, a proselyte. 2. A novice, a beginner in a subject or activity.
Notes: Don't be thrown by the PH for the [f] sound or the Y where we would normally expect an I. This is just the classic English transliteration of the Greek word. Today's word brings along with it two adjectives, neophytic [nee-ê-fit-ik] and neophytish [nee-ê-fait-ish]. The state of a neophyte is known as neophytism.
In Play: Today's word is basically a noun referring to someone who is new at something: "To the neophyte, a Twitter stream looks like military code, with all its OMGs, LOLs, @'s and #'s." However, this noun, like so many others, may be used attributively, as though it were an adjective: "Rex Moders is such a neophyte mechanic, he spent a month looking for an MC hammer for his toolbox." (MC Hammer is a famous rapper.)
Word History: Today's Good Word entered Middle English from Late Latin neophytus, borrowed by the Romans from Greek neophytos. The Greek word is composed of neo(s) "new"+ phytos "planted", the past participle of phyein "to shoot forth, grow". The origins of Greek neos has already been covered in the Good Word neoteric. Phyein comes from the same PIE source as English build and bower, discussed in neighbor. In German the same root, PIE bheu- "to exist, grow", emerged as Baum "tree", bauer "farmer" and bauen "build". In Latin the initial [bh] became [f], so we recognize the PIE root in futurus "future" = "that is to be". (Albert Skiles, no neophyte to the Good Word series, is to be congratulated for his recommendation of today's very Good Word.)