• enigma •
ê-nig-mê • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A very difficult riddle. 2. An unsolvable mystery.
Notes: Today's Good Word comes from a rich if mysterious family, including an adjective, enigmatic with its adverb, enigmatically, and a verb, to enigmatize "to make mysterious or puzzling". Someone who loves to make up riddles or obfuscates issues for a reason is an enigmatist. If you would like to enigmatize your conversations a bit, use the old Greek plural, enigmata, rather than the simpler and more modern enigmas.
In Play: One of the most famous uses of this Good Word was Winston Churchill's declaration in 1939 that Russia ". . . is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." Later, during World War II the German Navy developed a code machine known as the Enigma Machine. A copy was passed to the British by sympathetic Polish engineers and became the key to the success of the Allies in their struggle against German U-boat attacks. Now you can enjoy our version of this machine when you spin the alphaDictionary Wheel of Fortunate Words.
Word History: Today's word is borrowed from the borrowed Latin word aenigma. Latin took this word from Greek ainigma "riddle, mysterious comment", the noun of ainissesthai "to speak in riddles", derived from ainos "fable, tale, praise". Although we don't know where this word came from, we do know that it also underlies the name of Aeneas (Greek Aineias), the hero of the Aeneid and son of Anchises and the goddess of love, Aphrodite. (Today let's thank Susan Lister, who becomes less and less of an enigma as she suggests more and of her favorite words—words like this one—to us.)
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