• pensive •
Pronunciation: pen-siv • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Deep in thought, meditative, absorbed in wistful, often melancholic, thinking.
Notes: This word may be used without hardship. It comes with a standard noun, pensiveness (no respectable dictionary has yet dared to offer pensivity), and an adverb, again, the standard pensively.
In Play: We don't usually attribute thought to animals, but anytime any animate object is perfectly still, we assume it is deep in thought: "Your dog looks very pensive; no doubt pondering his next meal." Of course, there are times to be pensive and times that are less suitable: "The moment I ask you to marry me is no time to become pensive."
Word History: Today's Good Word began its life with a Fickle S attached to it: (s)pen- "to draw, stretch, spin". The S was retained in the Germanic languages. Consider, for example, English and all the words it developed from this source: spindle, span, spider—all originally processes of drawing out or stretching. Latin dispensed with the initial S to produce pendere "to hang, weigh", something also associated with stretching, and pensare "to weigh". Just as weigh in English is associated with thinking (He weighed his decision carefully), the Latin word picked up this meaning, too. This allowed the French, who inherited this word, to contrive pensif, which English promptly borrowed. By the way, Latin created another word from the PIE root, pondus "a weight", which went into the making of pondere "to weigh". English borrowed the first word and turned it into pound, and also the second one, which it used in the weightier sense of ponder. (Before we become pensive thinking over today's thoughtful Good Word, let me thank Lew Jury for suggesting it.)