• vicennial •
Pronunciation: vai-sen-i-êl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Occurring every twenty years. 2. Lasting twenty years.
Notes: We love to divide time into convenient chunks: ten years (decade), a hundred years (century), a thousand years (millennium), and we always turn to Latin for the names of these periods. Our adjective has a fraternal brother, vicenary, with the same meaning.
In Play: We start out thinking about the hours that have passed, then the days, then the months and years, and even the decades. However, we eventually reach the age when we think in larger periods than decades: "I didn't really begin to think about my age until my children began celebrating their vicennial birthdays." This word also indicates a period of twenty years: "When Rip van Winkle woke up from his vicennial slumber, he was surprised at what he found."
Word History: Today's word covers a score of years or, as early Romans said, a vicennium "a twenty-year period", plural vicennia. This word was created from viginti "twenty", currently vingt in French, vinte in Portuguese, veinte in Spanish, and venti in Italian. The Latin word apparently started out in Proto-Indo-European as a compound of wi- "half, in two" + dekmt-i "decade". As you can see, it originally contained the root dek- "ten", which we find in our words decade, decimal, among others. The original PIE word for "twenty" came to be vimsatih in Sanskrit. The phrase pañca "five" + vimsatih, "twenty-five", developed over the next 3000 years into modern Hindi pacis "twenty-five". Adding the simple noun suffix -i to this word gave Hindi and English the name of the game pachisi. (We hope we have far less than a vicennial wait for the next Good Word from today's contributor, David Ross.)