• equilibrium •
Pronunciation: e-kwê-lib-ri-êm or ee-kwê-lib-ri-êm • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (No plural)
Meaning: 1. Balance, a state of equal distribution that prevents toppling or collapse, as to maintain one's equilibrium in walking. 2. The stability that results from balance, as the equilibrium of power in the Middle East or someone's mental equilibrium.
Notes: Today's word has a rather large if aged family. The adjective is equilibrious "in balance", as you might lead, hopefully, an equilibrious life. To do so, you would have to equilibrate [ee-kwi-lê-breyt] the various aspects of your life. The act or process of bringing things into balance is equilibration. For some reason the family of this Good Word is getting lost in the shuffle of technology; let's bring some equilibrium back to our use of the entire equilibrium family.
In Play: If you can't equilibrate all the aspects of your life, you might learn how to equilibrate a stick on your nose—or a plate on the stick—as equilibrists do: "At the circus we enjoyed an equilibrist who balanced a spinning plate in perfect equilibrium on the end of a thin, vertical rod balanced on his nose." However, we mention this word today for its broader applications: "After nearly tipping over from the discombobulation of parenthood, grandparenthood returns a bit of pleasant equilibrium to your life."
Word History: This word was almost traced from Latin aequilibrium (or equilibrium) "balance", based on aequi- "even, equal" + libra "balance". The root aequi- is a variant of aequalis from aequus "even, level" and the source of English equal. This sense of balance is why the sign of Libra, the 7th sign of the zodiac, is a set of scales. Little is known of either of these roots beyond Latin. (Today we tip our hats to Michael McWilliams of Raytheon Australia for his suggestion that we try to bring today's word into better equilibrium with its family.)
I can't help surmising that Latin «libra», in the sense of a balance for measuring weights (cf the illustration, supra), does not itself derive from «libra» as a unit of weight (actually, mass). But then again, it might be the other way 'round !...