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gossamer

Printable Version Pronunciation: gah-sê-mê(r) Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: 1. The material of the small threads spun by baby spiders, as they hatch in late summer, that carry them through the air to their new lives. 2. Anything extremely sheer, filmy or flimsy; possessed of lightness and softness approaching nothingness.

Notes: Today's Good Word originally referred to the faintest filament spun by baby spiders, a flimsiness barely visible, so use today's word sparingly. This word is a mass noun with no plural form but it may be used alone as an adjective meaning "made of gossamer". The actual adjective, gossamery, carries the meaning "like gossamer", as a gossamery veil. If today's word strikes you as one of the most beautiful in English, you are right: it is one of The 100 Most Beautiful Words in English

In Play: Keep in mind that today's word retains its association with threads: "She brushed a bit of gossamer from her face with a gesture so gentle and graceful as to not damage it." It refers to lightness and sheerness at the very edge of visibility. As Cole Porter put it in his 1935 song, Just One of those Things: "[It was] Just one of those fabulous flights; A trip to the moon on gossamer wings; Just one of those things." We can assume that sprites and fairies are equipped with gossamer wings.

Word History: Today's Good Word is a smoothed version of Middle English gos(e)somer "goose-summer," a shortening of goose-summer thread. Goose-summer apparently referred to Indian summer, the hot part of fall, when gossamer threads tend to drift about. The goose month (German Gänsemonat) is November, the time when geese are at their fattest and best for eating. There is a semantic connection with German Sommerfäden, Dutch zomerdraden, and Swedish sommartråd "summer thread". (Today we thank Katy Brezger for suggesting today's wispy word in alphaDictionary's Alpha Agora.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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