• pelagic •
Pronunciation: pê-læ-jik • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Relating to the open sea rather than along the coastline. 2. Living or occurring in the upper waters of the open sea.
Notes: Pelagic does not have a large family but it is one of a set of fraternal triplets, along with pelagial and pelagian with the same meaning. To indicate the main body of a lake or sea, as opposed to the littoral or riparian area, we simply use pelagial as a noun, as in a species that feeds in the pelagial.
In Play: This is another very lovely English word that focuses our discussions of the sea. It allows us to distinguish the shoreline and the offing from the pelagic: "The albatross is a pelagic bird that is often the first bird spotted by a ship approaching land." Unfortunately, not all the uses of this word are so halcyon: "Roger Jolly always sails his boat close to the shore to avoid pelagic pirates who lie in wait just beyond the offing."
Word History: Today's Good Word originates in Greek pelagikos "marine, sea" from pelagos "open sea". The root of this word originates in the Proto-Indo-European root plak "flat". We would expect the PIE [p] to become [f] in English and the [k] to become [h] or disappear, as it did in floe "a flat mass of ice". The [k] remained in flake because this word was probably borrowed from Norwegian flag, which came from Old Norse flaga "flat stone", as in flagstone. Apparently the seas were calm much of the time around Greece, since Greek selected this root for their word for "open sea". The Greek word for "sea" is thalassa. (Today we are grateful to Grogie of the Agora for another good Good Word suggestion.)