• gamut •
Pronunciation: gæ-mêt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: The complete spectrum, range, or extent, as to play the gamut of notes in the key of C major.
Notes: Today's Good Word is a combination of Greek and Latin words (see Word History). That may be the reason that it is a lexical orphan, a word without derivational relatives.
In Play: Gamut may be used straightforwardly in sentences like this: "A prism breaks a beam of light into the gamut of visible colors." A rainbow also contains the gamut of visible colors. However, the figurative uses are, as usual, more interesting: "The bull chased Thaddeus the gamut of the field before lifting him up and over the fence on his horns."
Word History: Gamut entered the English language in 1520s. It referred at that time to the lowest note in the medieval musical scale. It was a contraction of Medieval Latin gamma ut from gamma, the Greek letter naming the note below A, + ut "where", the lowest note on the six-note Medieval musical scale. This scale was the forerunner of the 8 note scale with the names do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do. The names of the notes were taken from initial syllables in a Latin hymn for St. John the Baptist's Day, running from the lowest to the highest:
Ut queant laxis resonare fibris
Mira gestorum famuli tuorum
Solve polluti labii reatum, Sancte Iohannes.