• thwart •
Pronunciation: thwart • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, transitive
Meaning: 1. To obstruct, to block, to foil, frustrate, prevent by opposition. 2. To traverse, cross, pass from side to side or straddle.
Notes: Today's Good Word is the only word in English that begins with the consonants THW that is not a variant of another word beginning with WH, such as thwack (from whack) and thwittle (from whittle). This word may also be used as a noun referring to the transverse seat in a small boat and as a preposition or adverb meaning "across, astraddle", though in the latter sense it usually appears with the prefix a: athwart, as to stand athwart the path.
In Play: We best know this word in its sense of obstruction: "Marvin's inability to speak any foreign language thwarts his best efforts to learn about the countries he travels to." As usual, however, we mourn the loss of the original meaning of this word so, as a purely Quixotic gesture, offer this example: "If Lionel promises to help you, make sure he isn't thwarting his fingers behind his back." And, of course, birds known as crossbeaks or crossbills have thwarted beaks.
Word History: This word began its life in Old English as an adverb meaning "from side to side, cross, perverse". It originated as Proto-Indo-European twork-/twerk- "to twist", which also motivated Latin torquere "to twist", the origin of English torque. Apparently torches were originally made of twisted brush for torch is also based on Latin torquere. Sanskrit tarkuh "spindle", Croatian traka "(highway) lane" from Old Slavic traku "band, girdle," and Modern German drechseln "to turn (on a lathe)" are other words from the same PIE root. (Today we thank Marcia Montgomery for allowing nothing to thwart her attempt to send this very Good Word to alphaDictionary.)