• nuzzle •
Part of Speech: Verb, transitive
Meaning: To stroke lightly with the nose or face.
Notes: Today's Good Word is a common one but interesting for its origin (see Word History). It is a distant relative of nozzle—both are descendants of nose, but today it behaves like a regular Germanic word (not borrowed from Latin). Someone who nuzzles is a nuzzler; the process is nuzzling.
In Play: Today's Good Word originally referred to animals rooting in the ground for food and is still closely associated with animal behavior: "When the cat comes up and begins nuzzling me, I know it is time to feed her." Now that the word has taken on a gentler meaning, it applies to the affectionate behavior of people, too: "Well, I would not say that we actually petted but we did conduct a bit of serious nuzzling."
Word History: Today's Good Word is a combination of nose + the old suffix -le, sometimes spelled -el. It originally referred to animals rooting in the ground with their noses, then came to refer to humans rooting around where humans root around with their noses. The suffix -le ages ago was added to nouns to make them into verbs and to verbs to make them "frequentative", referring to repeated action. We find remnants of it in verbs like dazzle, crackle, sparkle, and topple—all from recognizable roots. Nose has changed little over the past five millennia. We find nos in Russian, nez in French from Latin nasus, Hindi naka. (Today we express our gratitude for Kathleen McCune's nose for Good Words like this one, which she suggested for our series.)
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