• buttress •
Pronunciation: bê-tris • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A structure built against a wall to firmly support and strengthen it. 2. Anything resembling a buttress, for example, the buttress roots of a kapok, mangrove or rain forest canopy tree (see below).
Notes: Today's word is almost a lexical orphan. The only derivations are buttressless and buttresslike. However, this noun may be used as a verb meaning "firmly support or strengthen", as to buttress arguments with evidence from the library. Don't forget to double both the Ts and Ses.
In Play: There are several types of buttresses, including flying buttresses characterized by an open arch, and ordinary buttresses, which are flat up against the wall: "Millie wanted to know where the flying buttresses flew to." (A flying buttress is illustrated in the graphic.) As mentioned above, this noun may also be used as a verb: "Harry Wormser-Goode buttressed himself for an onslaught of criticism for his letter to the editor of the local newspaper."
Word History: Today's Good Word began as buteras in Middle English. Buteras was borrowed from Old French bouterez, the nominative plural of bouteret, the noun from bouter "to push, bear against". Bouter was apparently borrowed from some Germanic language, possibly Old Norse bauta "to strike, beat". The origin of this word was Old Germanic butan "beat, strike", the same source as beat, battle and the verb, to butt. Baste in the sense of "thrash, strike" ("Don't do that or I'll baste you one) may have come from the same source. Another Old Norse word, beysta "to flail, paddle", supports this view. (I should buttress this essaylet with a word of thanks to Stephanie Ranson and her sixth grade pupils, who are now studying medieval history.)