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mote

Printable Version Pronunciation: mot Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A speck of dust, minute particle, iota, crumb, grain, mite, smidgen.

Notes: Today's Good Word is pretty simple and straightforward. In northern England and Scotland people still refer to motey (the adjective) substances and moteless (spotless) homes but these variants are marginal elsewhere. Careful not to confuse the spelling of this word with moat, the canal that once engirdled castles.

In Play: Today's Good Word is most familiar in English idiom "a mote in the eye" referring to someone who criticizes others for faults they possess themselves. It comes from a passage in the King James version of the New Testament, Matthew 13:3: "But what seest thou a little mote in the eye of thy brother, and seest not a beam in thine own eye?" Here is the way we would use it today: "Don't you think Sparky the Clown has a mote in the eye when he criticizes the way you dress?" We do still use this word figuratively: "There isn't a mote of truth in what Mel Arky says about me!"

Word History: Mote is a pure-blood English word, not borrowed from any other language. It certainly went into the making of motley and is probably related to smut, with a Fickle S that comes and goes as it pleases. (We have seen the Fickle S elsewhere in related words like English slack and Latin lax.) It is also possible that midge and smidgen are a part of the larger family of words related to mote; however, supporting evidence is lacking. (We certainly owe a gazillion motes of gratitude to Doug Schulek-Miller for suggesting today's fascinating little Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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