• leviathan •
lê-vai-ê-thên • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A huge sea monster mentioned in the Bible (Old Testament). 2. Anything of monstrous size: ship, whale, government out of control. 3. A titan, a person of gigantic, formidable wealth and power.
Notes: Today's Good Word is known mostly through the title of Thomas Hobbes' famous political treatise, The Leviathan (1660), a term he uses to refer to the state. Hobbes argues in favor of a large government so long as it rests on a social contract among all those it protects. The adjective is leviathanic "huge, monstrous in size and/or power".
In Play: English speakers share a long tradition of referring to large ships as leviathans: "The Titanic was a leviathan that lost its battle with an even more leviathanic iceberg." Today's word is also reserved for the biggest of the big-shots: "Les Cheatham thinks he is a leviathan of industry, but he is just a wealthy snake."
Word History: Today's Good Word comes from Hebrew livyathan, an enormous Biblical sea creature. Today it means "whale". This word is based on the verb root *l-w-y "to wind, twist, circle, encircle", akin to Ugaritic *l-t-n "sea monster". It is also related to Arabic laway "to twist" and liwyah "wreath", not to mention Akkadian lamu "to surround, encircle".
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