• iridescent •
i-rê-de-sênt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Displaying a rainbow of colors, shimmering with an array of multiple bright colors.
Notes: Today's Good Word is a beautiful one in both sound and meaning. It is related to irises, both the flowers and the colorful part of the eye. The adverb and noun are formed the usual way, iridescently and iridescence. (In the spoken language, that is simply the addition of the suffix -s to the adjective: [irÍdesÍnt] becomes [irÍdesÍnt-s.)
In Play: Certain objects are by their very nature iridescent: "Maude Lynn Dresser was the center of attention when she walked in with a new hat spuming iridescent peacock feathers." If you are an environmentalist, though, iridescence may not always be a beautiful sight: "The president of the oil plant wore a ring with an iridescent gemstone that matched perfectly the colors in the film of oil on the surface of the creek that ran by the plant."
Word History: The beauty of today's word comes from Greek iris (plural irides) "rainbow, iris (of the eye)" + (e)scent. The word for "rainbow" today is arco-íris in Portuguese and arcoíris in Spanish. Latin added the sense of the flower, iris, when it borrowed the word from Greek. The root of iris developed directly into Latin as viere "to twist", suggesting that iris is a suffixed form of Proto-Indo-European wi-ri- "to turn, twist". This same root turned up in English as wire, vine, and with "slender, supple switch"—maybe willow, too. The semantic journey through Greek led from something that is colorful and arched (a rainbow) to anything as colorful as a rainbow. (Let us all bend at the waist in the direction of Tom Duffy for suggesting such a colorful word as our Good Word of today.)
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