• Caucasian •
kaw-kay-zhên • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective, Noun
Meaning: 1. Related to the people or languages of the Caucasus Mountains or a person from the Caucasus. 2. Related to people with white skin or such a person.
Notes: Today's Good Word refers to the peoples (Georgians, Armenians, Chechens, and others) and cultures located in the Caucasus Mountains, though it is also used in the United States to refer to all people with white skins. Remember that Caucasus is singular and say, "The Caucasus is (not are) beautiful," if you omit Mountains. Avoid the problem altogether by calling the region between the Black and Caspian Seas Caucasia and the mountains dividing Europe from Asia in that region, the Caucasus Mountains.
In Play: First of all today's Good Word refers to the region of Caucasia and the Caucasus Mountains in it: "We are lucky to have Caucasian friends who invite us to the Caucasus every spring for skiing." The second sense of this word has wondered pretty far from the original for reasons discussed in the Word History: "Sal McGundy was the only Caucasian graduating last year from the Ching Ching School of Chinese Cooking."
Word History: Today's word is the adjective for Caucasus, the name of the mountain range of Caucasia. In 1795 the German anthropologist Johann Blumenbach wrongly identified the Caucasus as the origin of European and Far Eastern peoples, based on measurements of their skulls. This meaning led to the distinction between "white" and "nonwhite" Caucasians and finally to the conclusion that all Caucasians are white, making the still popular term "white Caucasian" redundant. The name of the mountain range comes from Greek kaukhasis, said by Pliny (Natural History XVII) to be from a Scythian word kroy-khasis, "ice-shining, white with snow." Since Scythian, an ancient Iranian language, has not been preserved, we have no way of confirming Pliny's analysis. (We wish we could offer Helen Krystallis a Caucasian vacation for suggesting today's Good Word but our budget forces us to make do with our usual "Thank you".)
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