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osculate

Printable Version Pronunciation: ahs-kyU-layt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: 1. To kiss. 2. To come in contact with, to barely touch. 3. (Mathematics) To share at least three points in common, to touch or overlap at least three times.

Notes: Today's is a typical Latinate word (borrowed from Latin) and comes with the panoply of derivations found among Latinate verbs ending on -ate. The action noun is osculation, and the active adjectives are osculatory and oscular. There is also a passive adjective that comes in two flavors, positive (osculable "kissable") and negative (inosculable "unkissable"). Notice that the suffix -ate is dropped before -able and -ar.

In Play: Pucker up, angelYou might ask yourself: "Why would I want to use a three-syllable word to say the same thing that I can express with one syllable (kiss)? Well, since Latinate words are considered high-falutin', if you are seeing someone who is high-falutin', you might want to say, "Dear, I feel so romantic, bathed as we are in the moonlight, would you decline an offer to osculate?" In such a conversation, remember the large family of today's word: "No, Wilfred, I am afraid that I find you most inosculable even by the dim moonlight."

Word History: Today's Good Word came with the hordes of Latin words that migrated to English in the Middle Ages. It comes from osculari "to kiss" (osculatus "kissed"), a verb made from osculum "a kiss". Osculum means literally "a mouthlet", for it is the diminutive of os "mouth", seen in ostiary "doorkeeper", ultimately from Latin ostium "door", which shares its source with English usher. Masks of the Roman god Bacchus were often hung on fruit trees to encourage fertility. They were notable for their widely opened mouths and so were called oscilla. Because they swung back and forth in the breeze, the verb from this noun, oscillare, came to mean "swing back and forth". English based its verb oscillate on the past participle of this verb. (Let's now blow an osculation of gratitude to our dear friend Dr. Lyn Laboriel, who was kind enough to suggest today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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