• ember •
em-bêr • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun (usually plural)
Meaning: 1. A red hot, glowing coal. 2. The dying remains of a relationship or activity.
Notes: Today's Good Word is a lexical orphan with no words derived from it or from which it is derived. It is most often used in the plural, as in the dying embers in the fireplace. It is unrelated to amber, though they share similar colors. Amber originated in Arabic 'anbar "ambergris, amber".
In Play: Although an ember is a singular glowing hot coal, today's word usually appears in the plural, because we generally find many such coals together: "Bertha D. Blues has very fond memories of singing around the dying embers of a campfire as a child in the Girl Scouts." Do keep in mind, though, that anything that may be thought of as "warm" or "hot" may pass through an ember stage as it wanes: "Les Canoodle hoped to create a new relationship with Kaye Syrah from the embers of their dying romance."
Word History: In Old English (449-1066) today's Good Word was śmerge, which probably merged with Old Norse eimyrja "ember", during or following the Viking invasions of England. Both these words evolved from Proto-Germanic aim-uzjon "ashes", composed of aima- "ashes" + uzjo "to burn". The root that went into the making of Germanic uzjo showed up in Latin urere "to burn" with an R rather than a Z. Comburere is a combination of com-"with, completely" + urere. The B was added by analogy with amburere "to singe, burn around". The past participle of comburere was combustus "burnt up", the origin of English combust. (Today's Good Word left us with the embers of desire for more fascinating words like this one from the person known only as "Klimt" in the Agora.)
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