• tantalize •
tænt-êl-aiz • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, transitive
Meaning: To tease by offering something that is kept just out of reach of the one it is offered to.
Notes: This Good Word comes from a large and happy family. The process noun is tantalization and the present participle, tantalizing, has become an adjective with all of an adjective's capacities, i.e. more tantalizing, most tantalizing, very tantalizing, including an adverb, tantalizingly. The person who engages in this occupation is a tantalizer.
In Play: This word refers to a special kind of teasing in which something is promised or offered, then almost but not quite given: "Bette Noire tantalizes Phil Anders with her sexiness just enough to keep him buying her dinner." Remember, you cannot be tantalized by anything that you can get or can get immediately: "The tantalizing contours of the new Jaguar roadster drove Rod Thrower to levels of frugality and savings he hadn't known were possible."
Word History: Today's word came from the name of Tantalos, a mythical king of Phrygia (Greece), son of Zeus. For airing the gods' dirty laundry, Tantalos was condemned to stand in water whose level dropped when he nodded to drink, and beneath fruit hanging above him that rose when he tried to bite it. His name comes from the Proto-Indo-European root *telÍ-/*tolÍ- "lift, support, weight". The stem of Atlantis, the long lost Greek city, is apparently based on this root word. Atlanta, the capital of the US state, Georgia, is an adaptation of this word. Since *telÍ-/*tolÍ- had a variant without a vowel, *tlÍ-, we might expect Atlas to be related. However, a-tlÍ- would imply "no lift, no support", since a- is a negative prefix meaning "not", so this connection is dubious. (We thank Tim Ward of our Agora for suggesting today's very tantalizing Good Word.)
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