• fetter •
Pronunciation: fed-êr • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. Shackles for the feet, a chain fastened to one or both feet that prohibits escape. 2. A restriction or restraint, something that hampers our progress or holds us back.
Notes: Today's word, unfortunately, is still used in both the meanings given above. Even if only one foot is restrained, this word is usually used in the plural: to put someone in fetters or to fetter them (the noun may be used as a verb). Fetters are shackles of lighter weight. Shackles are inescapable; fetters imply a greater potential of escape.
In Play: Shackles is the preferable term for the leg irons used in prisons today, since escaping from them is highly unlikely, but today's word is also acceptable: "The prisoner hobbled into the courtroom in handcuffs and fetters." We are more likely to use this term in its metaphorical sense, however: "Habits can become fetters on our mind that prevent us from seeing beyond our nose."
Word History: Today's Good Word is one of those rarities we enjoy so much when we encounter one: an authentically English word not borrowed from some other language. It originally meant something like "footer", for it comes from the Proto-Indo-European word pod-/ped- "foot". This is also a rare perfect example of the historical rules that PIE [p] becomes [f] and [d] becomes [t] in Germanic languages, for English foot came our of it, while it emerged in Greek as the pod- that we see in tripod. Latin chose the e-form: the Latin root for "foot", ped-, can be seen in the English borrowings pedal and pedestrian. (Today we thank the unfettered mind of Gail Granum for seeing the value in today's Good Word.)
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I also frequently see "unfettered" used metaphorically. "Free of parental supervision, the students were unfettered to party all night." "In the interim between supervisors, the office staff felt unfettered and worked or dozed as they chose."
- Perry Lassiter
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