• vertiginous •
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Spinning on an axis, rotating, whirling. 2. Dizzy, giddy from a sense of spinning while standing still, suffering from vertigo. 3. Dizzying, causing a sense of spinning. 4. Unstable in thought or opinion, giddy-minded.
Notes: Today's Good Word is the adjective from vertigo, the dizzying sense of whirling when we are standing still. In the famous Hitchcock film of the same name, vertigo was caused by vertiginous heights, but it may result from exhaustion, standing up too suddenly, overdrinking, or drugs. A few daring writers have tried vertiginate as a verb meaning to spin or act giddy, but they have not convinced my spellchecker that this word is worthy of our use.
In Play: Today's adjective may refer to things that spin or go around: "The audience was entranced by the colorful vertiginous motion of the May Pole dance." It may also describe something that creates dizziness or the impression of spinning: "The room was positively vertiginous with waltzing couples." States similar to that of spinning are also captured by the sense of this word: "Don't ask Gladys Friday how to handle a cantankerous customer: you never know what will come out of that vertiginous mind of hers."
Word History: Today's Good Word is Latin vertigo "dizziness". This word apparently referred to whirling and spinning for it originates in the verb vertere "to turn", whose root we see in a host of words borrowed from Latin, such as invert, convert, and subvert, all referring to some kind of turning. The root from which Latin vert- was derived came through the Germanic languages to English as -ward in such words as toward, upward, and westward. It also came through Old Slavic to become Russian vorota "gate", povorot "turn, turning point", and vrata "door" in both Czech and Serbian. (We are grateful to Chris Berry for spinning to new heights in the Alpha Agora to come up with today's Good Word.)