• aplomb •
Pronunciation: ê-plahm, ê-plêm • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: Composure, confidence, coolness, poise, self-control.
Notes: Today's Good Word is an absolute lexical orphan without a single relative: no related adjective or verb. It is a distant historical relative of plumber (see Word History), but neither of these words is derived from the other. Keep an eye on the final B. English doesn't like the cluster MB and only the M is pronounced, unless the two consonants fall into discrete syllables, as in the case of number. Notice that the B is not pronounced in the comparative form of numb (numb-er), but it is in the noun meaning "a cipher", where the syllable break is between the M and B: num-ber.
In Play: Wherever composure and self-confidence are required, look for aplomb: "Miranda played the Mozart fugue with great aplomb and remarkable dexterity." It does, however, emerge in situations where you might not expect it: "Leticia responded to the post-party mess throughout her house with great aplomb, never once losing her temper."
Word History: Today's Good Word goes back to an Old French phrase à plomb "(aligned) with the plumb bob" from plomb "lead, plumb bob". Its sense derives from the use of a lead weight at the end of a string to measure a perfectly vertical line. Anything that is plumb with the bob is perfectly upright and well aligned. French plomb "lead" comes from Latin plumbum, which turns up in several English words. Most of these words have to do with plumbing, which originally consisted of lead pipes held together by lead joints. Since the discovery of lead poisoning, plumbers shifted to iron, copper, and, now, plastic pipes with cemented joints. Down South we still say, "He's plumb crazy," meaning he is perfectly crazy.