• spate •
Pronunciation: spayt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A flash flood; a deluge, sudden flood or enormous gush. 2. A huge downpour, a gully-washer capable of producing a flash flood. 3. A huge amount or number.
Notes: We frequently use today's Good Word figuratively without knowing its literal sense. Now we do. Of course, if we don't use this word in its literal sense any more, does it even retain that meaning? The original, literal sense of a gully-washer or deluge is still alive in Great Britain and other English-speaking lands, so we should maintain it here in North America.
In Play: Let's begin with the original meaning of today's word: "When the dam broke, the resulting spate carried away all the bridges for 100 miles downstream." In the US it is only used now to indicate a large number or amount: "Our merger with the Doolittle and Slack Consulting firm brought a spate of new work for me."
Word History: Today's Good Word came originally from Scotland in the sense of a sudden flood or flash flood. We are not certain of its actual origin, but it seems related to Dutch spuiten "to flow, spout". English contains several other words related to moving water beginning on SP and ending on T, such as spurt, spatter, spit and spattle, an archaic form of spit. They all may be related, but none carry the sense of great quantity associated with today's word. (We have received a spate of suggestions for Good Words from Lew Jury this year, all words as good as today's.)