• stethoscope •
steth-ê-skop • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: An instrument for amplifying the sounds made by internal organs.
Notes: Today's Good Word comes from the field of medicine; we think it time it came out of that closet. It comes with several related words. The adjectives are stethoscopic and stethoscopical, but we must use the latter for the adverb, stethoscopically. We can also say stethoscoped "provided with a stethoscope". A person who wields a stethoscope is a stethoscopist, and the process of using a stethoscope is known as stethoscopy.
In Play: Let's first examine the normal use of today's word: "The doctor was perplexed when his stethoscope couldn't detect the heartbeat of a patient who was conscious and sitting up in bed." However, we have a wide range of possibilities for metaphorical uses: "The best stethoscope for the health of the economy is the stock market." Here is another: "Freud thought dreaming was a stethoscope for repressed, hidden emotions."
Word History: Today's Good Word, like so many others, was borrowed from French, specifically, stéthoscope, a word coined in 1819 by its inventor, French physician René-Théophile-Hyacinthe Laënnec (1781-1826). Laënnec combined two Greek words, stethos "chest, breast" + scopein "to look at, examine", to create his new word. Greek stethos could be related to sternon "front of the chest", which Latin borrowed and converted to sternum. Sternum is related to a plethora of words throughout Indo-European languages, including English straw, strew and street, Russian stroit' "build", that we see in perestroika "rebuilding", and German streusel, from German streuen "to sprinkle, scatter". (Today's gratitude is owed our German friend, Monika Freund, who was attracted by the name of the creator of this Good Word.)
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