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victual

Printable Version Pronunciation: vit-Íl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. Human food. 2. (Plural) Food and provisions.

Notes: Today's word is used most often in the plural as "to lay in victuals for the coming storm". The noun may be used as a verb, too, which leads to the British use of victualler [vit(e)ler] in reference to an inn-keeper or provisioner of ships or armies. Supply ships themselves have been referred to as victuallers. Victualage [vit(e)lage] may refer to the occupation of a victualler or the supplies he victuals.

In Play: The reason the [c] was returned to today's word was to make it sound more formal, more Latinate (see Word History). The result was the misconception that the pronunciation vittles is incorrect. In fact, it is the natural one, though the spelling is substandard: "We have enough victuals in the house to live for three months without leaving it." But don't forget the delightful derivations of this word, "Bernard, could you help me remove the victualage from the trunk of the car?"

Word History: Today's Good word comes from Old French vitaille or vitale (no C), the normal descendent of Late Latin victualia, the neuter plural of victualis "food, sustenance". In Middle French, the C was reintroduced into the word to produce victuaille, and English soon followed suit. The word is, in fact, sometimes spelled vittle, but has always been pronounced that way throughout the English-speaking world. The root goes back to Proto-Indo-European gwei- "live, life", which gave us English quick in the original sense of "alive", as in "the quick and the dead". Latin lost the G and the W became V in vivere "to live," which stands behind our vital, vivid, vivacious, and, Viva!. (It is past time to thank the editors of our series, lo, these many years: Paul Ogden, Luciano Eduardo de Oliveira, and Mary Jane Stoneburg. My gratitude for their services cannot be overstated.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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