• manna •
Pronunciation: mæ-nê • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. An unexpected, gratuitous gift, a windfall. 2. In the Old Testament, food miraculously provided to the Israelites in the desert during their flight from Egypt. 3. A sweet secretion from the manna ash or similar plants, used as a laxative and the principal source of mannitol.
Notes: We encounter no derivational relatives of this staunchly independent word, and the only caveat is to not forget to double the N in the middle of it. It doesn't end with an H, either.
In Play: This word is most likely found before the phrase "from heaven", as in, "When his shorts fell down in the art museum, Mona Lisa's smile came to him as manna from heaven." The third sense of today's Good Word is still alive and kicking around Europe: "Castelbuon has its own speciality: panettone made with the local manna liquor."
Word History: Today's Good Word is an Old English borrowing from Late Latin manna, a borrowing from Greek manna, a borrowing from Hebrew man. In Greek and Latin it was used specifically with reference to the substance miraculously supplied to the Israelites during their trek across the Sinai desert. Hebrew man is a West Semitic word originally meaning "to be kind, show favor, patronize", seen in Aramaic mann, akin to Arabic manna "favor, gift, manna". The manna of the Israelites may have originally been the Mount Sinai manna produced by the tamarisk tree and eaten like honey. Arabic mann and Egyptian mannu can be used in this sense. So, the Hebrew word may have originally been the name used for a natural food product consumed by the Israelites. (The suggestion that we do today's Good Word dropped like manna itself from Diane Lyons.)