• cynosure •
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. The North Star or Ursa Minor, its constellation. 2. Something that attracts attention by its brilliance. 3. Anything that provides guidance or leadership, a 'guiding star'.
Notes: Today's Good Word is one of the most graceful in the English language; use it for its sheer decorative effect in your conversations. Its only relative is cynosural, an adjective not quite as lovely as its mother. Thomas Carlyle wrote in The French Revolution (1837), "Meanwhile the fair young Queen, in her halls of state, walks like a goddess of Beauty, the cynosure of all eyes."
In Play: Cynosures first and foremost must be striking and stand out: "When Christ was born, Rome was the cynosure of the Western world." This implies that it was bright, brilliant, and widely imitated. Things smaller than Rome may be cynosures, too: "Alison Wonderland was the cynosure of the soiree from the moment she lilted into the room in her lustrous white gown hemmed with a striking furbelow."
Word History: The origin of today's Good Word presents a stark contrast to its glitter and glamour. Cynosure is a hand-me-down from the French descendant of a Latin borrowing of Greek kynosoura "dog-tail," based on kuon, kynos "dog" + oura "tail", the Greek name of Ursa Minor. The Proto-Indo-European root kuon- made it to English as "hound" while Latin converted it to canis "dog", from which English snitched canine and canary. Yes, canary: canaries were named for their point of origin, the Canary Islands, which comes from the Latin Canariae Insulae "Dog Islands". (Our cynosure today is Mark Bailey, who suggested it and who is one of the select circle of Grand Panjandra in the Alpha Agora.)
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