• stereophonic •
Pronunciation: stee-ree-o-fahn-ik • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Binaural, related to a sound system that relies on two discrete channels to produce a sense of more realistically distributed sound.
Notes: Today's Good Word is seldom used any more; it is more often shortened to just stereo. A sound system with more than two speakers is referred to as surround sound. Stereophonic is accompanied, naturally, by an adverb, stereophonically, and your choice of two nouns: stereophony or stereophonics. A set of stereo headphones can be called a stereophone.
In Play: The idea behind stereophonic sound systems is that sounds recorded on the left side of a musical group go predominantly into the left ear, and sounds recorded on the right side, go primarily into the right ear of the listener: "Granddad, who was completely deaf in one ear, couldn't see the benefit of a stereo sound system." We can always stretch the meaning of stereophonic a little bit: "When I asked mom and dad if I could have a party in the house while they are out of town, I received a stereophonic "No!"
Word History: Today's Good Word would be a compound in Greek, made up of the Greek words stereos "solid" + phone "sound, voice". Apparently, adding depth to the aural experience was considered making the sound more solid by those who gave the system its English name. The original word that came to be stereos in Greek apparently meant "stiff", because it shows up in English as stare, starch, stark, and stern, all referring to one kind of stiffness or another. Phone turns up in many English borrowings from Greek, the most obvious being telephone, literally "distant voice", and the now old-timey word phonograph, literally "sound writer". (Let's now thank Doug Coppock, an Arkansan who enjoys stereophonic sound, for suggesting today's doubly Good Word.)