• autochthonous •
Pronunciation: aw-tahk-thê-nês • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Indigenous, native, that belongs where it is found.
Notes: Today's Good Word actually comes in three different flavors: autochthonous, autochthonal, and autochthonic. Although the first is preferable, all are legitimate adjectives from the noun autochthon "native, something that belongs where it occurs or is found". The abstract noun from autochthon is autochthonism.
In Play: Autochthonous is a synonym for native and indigenous that you may use when only the most esoteric term with this meaning will do: "When the Indo-European peoples moved into the Indian subcontinent, they apparently pushed the autochthonous populations to the south." Keep in mind, though, that the meaning of today's word is not limited to people: "Dewey Rose and Perry Winkle plant their garden only with autochthonous flowers, many transplanted from the fields around their home."
Word History: Today's Good Word is an adjective derived from the Greek noun autokhthon, made up of auto- "self" + khthon "earth". This Greek word for "earth" comes from the Proto-Indo-European word dhghem- which, with the suffix -on (dhghm-on), apparently meant "earthling". We have no written record of PIE so we can't be positive. The basic stem descended to Old English as guma "man", which picked up an [r] along the way to become the groom in bridegroom. By the time it reached Spanish, it was hombre. Chameleon and chamomile also derived from this root via the Greek variant chamai "on the ground". Chameleon originally was perceived as a lion (leon) on the ground while chamomile was the apple (melon) on the ground, so called because its flower has an apple-like scent. (Today we thank a certainly autochtonous member of the alphaDictionary family, Michael Oberndorf, for suggesting this down-to-earth Good Word.)
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