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entropy

Printable Version Pronunciation: en-trê-pee Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. (Physics) The amount of energy in a closed system unavailable to do work (symbol S). 2. (Information Theory) The loss of information in a transmitted message. 3. The tendency of matter and energy to disintegrate into a state of uniform inertness. 4. The deterioration of a system or society over time.

Notes: This Good Word is a gift of the world of physics but has been avidly adopted by the general population. It comes with an adjective, entropic [in-trah-pik] and an adverb, entropically. Some speakers are already using this noun as a verb: "The reception quickly entropied into a uniform hum of mindless chit-chat." However, dictionaries have not yet validated this usage. Do not confuse this word with its cousin atrophy "wasting away, shrinking."

In Play: Let's skip the scientific senses of this Good Word and go directly to the more widely encountered figurative meanings. Today's contributor, Stan Brown, sees moral values changing by social entropy, as youth more and more adapt the unacceptable, bringing it closer and closer to the norm. Occasionally lemming-like mass blunders can lead to entropy in businesses: "My financial advisor, Barney Smith, predicts considerable entropy among the major financial institutions in the course of 2009."

Word History: Entropy is composed of Greek en "in" + trope "a change, turn". Another word for "figure of speech" in English is trope, the Greek word exactly with a meaning remindful of the English expression a "turn of phrase". The Greek word and its sense of poetically turning a phrase made its way into Late Latin, emerging in Provenšal as trobar "to compose". A composer in that Romance language was a trobador, which French borrowed as troubadour. English picked this one off, too, on one of its many raids on the French vocabulary. The Greek word trope also went into the making of tropaion "monument of an enemy's defeat (turn in combat)", which Latin borrowed as trophaeum "victory monument". French in its own inimitable way transfigured this word into trophée, whereupon English snitched it and remolded it into trophy. (We hope suggestions like today's Good Word from Stan Brown never entropy.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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