• figment •
Pronunciation: fig-mênt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A fictitious invention, a fabrication, an invented or imaginary story, idea, doctrine, etc.
Notes: Today's Good Word often arises in the redundant phrase "a figment of (your) imagination". We don't need to specify the imagination or the mind, since figments can only exist in our minds. The adjective, should you ever need it, is figmental.
In Play: The question is whether we can figure out a situation in which today's Good Word may be used without attaching "of someone's imagination" to it: "Once some Harvard students got together and created a figment of a student applying for admission—and the figmental applicant was admitted!" Other ways abound: "Bernie Madoff's investment firm was a financial figment that caught many investors unawares.
Word History: Today's Good Word comes from Latin figmentum "formation, fiction" from fingere "to form, to feign". This root came to Latin from PIE dheigh- "to form, build". It came to English as dough and dairy. Dairy? The original word in Old English was dey "female servant", the person in charge of the bread, the dough-girl. As time passed and the duties of the dough-girl expanded to those of a dairy maid, the place where the dairy-maid worked was called the dey-ery, today spelled dairy. For families that could not afford a maid, things were tougher. The bread-kneader was the lady of the house, who was called the hlæfdige "bread-kneader". This compound noun comprised hlæf "bread" (today's loaf) + diga "kneader, shaper" which, a 1000 years later, is today's lady. (Albert Skiles is no figment of my imagination, but the contributor who suggested today's very Good Word.)