• levity •
le-vê-ti • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: 1. Mild frivolity, slight joviality or jocularity, a lack of seriousness required by the circumstances. 2. Lightness, insubstantial weight.
Notes: English has several words for a happy state characterized by joking, mentioned in the Meaning above: frivolity, joviality, jocularity, and levity. Levity is almost always used to refer to joviality at an inappropriate time or place. While it has no immediate family, this word is distantly related to a substantial number of borrowed words in English, some of which are mentioned in the Word History.
In Play: Today's word can be used where levity is appropriate: "This party is getting lethargic: will someone please add a bit of levity to it!" However, levity has a connotation of frivolity where frivolity does not belong: "Snail racing is a serious matter, and this race will have to be called off if we cannot control the levity!"
Word History: Today's Good Word was borrowed from Latin levitas "lightness", the noun from levis "light"—pronounced [le-vis], not [lee-vaiz]! It appears in levitation, alleviate, relieve, and elevate. Levis came from the original Proto-Indo-European root legwh- "light", which went on to become Russian lëgkiy and English light. I can recall, growing up in rural North Carolina, that the lungs of animals were called "lights". This was because they floated in water when the animals were slaughtered and cleaned. Well, this same word legwh- became lung with the presence of our old friend the Fickle N that comes and goes mysteriously over history. (Today we thank Ralph Mowery for bringing a bit of very appropriate levity to our series by suggesting today's light-hearted Good Word.)
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