pe-kyê-layt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb
Meaning: To embezzle, to steal money entrusted to you.
Notes: Today's Good Word behaves pretty much like speculate: a peculator is someone who engages in peculation, a peculative activity. The spelling is straightforward: since the C appears before a back vowel (u, o, a) it is pronounced 'hard', like K. (When it occurs before a front vowel (e, i) it is usually pronounced 'soft', like S.)
In Play: "Why do we need peculate if we have embezzle?" I heard someone ask. The answer is simple; it gives us a marvelous play on words: "Some say Hans Oppenfriese got his start by speculation; others say by peculation." And speculate isn't the only word you can play with: "Russell peculated all the coffee money and pilfered the percolator, too."
Word History: Today's Good Word, like many others in English, comes from the past participle, peculatus, of a Latin verb, in this case, peculari "to embezzle". This verb is based on the noun peculium "private property", whose adjective, peculiaris, is the source of English peculiar. Peculium, in its turn, is derived from Latin pecus "cattle", a word which gave us pecorino (cheese). How's that? The name of this cheese comes from Italian pecora "ewe, sheep", a descendant of Latin pecora, the plural of pecus (see also the plural of corpus: corpora). The meaning of Latin word pecus explains why the original root entered Old English directly as feoh "cattle, goods, money". Today this word is fee.
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