• fasces •
fæs-eez • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, plural
Meaning: (1) A fagot or bundle of sticks surrounding an ax with the head exposed, carried before magistrates as the symbol of Roman authority. (2) The symbols and trappings of authority.
Notes: In Late Latin the sense of "bundle" transitioned to "group, organization", which tempted Mussolini to name his ghastly organization the Fascist Party and its platform, Fascism. A small bundle is a fascicle, of course, a word used to refer to the small bundle of pages sewn together and bound in a book. Don't forget that fasces is a plural noun today: fasces are.
In Play: Although this word began with a rather focused meaning, today it is used metaphorically, however occasionally, to refer to authority and the trappings thereof: "I see that Throckmorton has abandoned the dean's office and taken up the fasces of the presidency at another college." Fasces in this sense are usually taken up or abandoned: "Sarah Palin surprised the world when she gave up the fasces of the governorship of Alaska mid-term."
Word History: Today's Good Word is the Latin word fasces, the plural of fascis. The original root started on a [bh] ([b] with a puff of air) for it appears in Greek baskioi "bundle of wood". It would seem to be related to English bast "the inner bark of the linden tree", strips of which were formerly used by Eastern European peasants to make bast shoes. Apparently, the original root referred to the strip tying a bundle together for it also turns up in fascia, a strip of decorative wood, another word borrowed from Latin, and in English basket. (We thank Mark J. Schulte for the addition of this very Good Word to the May fascicle of the Good Word series.)
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