• vicissitude •
vi-sis-ê-tyud • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: An unexpected change, twist, or shift.
Notes: Today's word comes with a plethora of adjectives to choose from: vicissitudinous, is my favorite, though vicissitudinal and vicissitudinary are close behind. I find this word to be one of the most beautiful in the language even though it did not quite make my 100 Most Beautiful Words because of all the hissing it makes.
In Play: Vicissitudes are one of the fundamental properties of life itself: "Shakespeare characterized the vicissitudes of life as 'the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune' in his famous tragedy Hamlet." Vicissitudes differ from ordinary shifts and changes in they are generally unexpected; we don't plan vicissitudes: "Giving birth to a daughter visited a host of vicissitudes upon Amanda that caught her ill-prepared to cope with."
Word History: Today's Good Word comes from Latin vicissitudo "change, vicissitude." The Latin word is based on vicissim "in turn", probably from vicis "(of) a turn or change", the genitive case of vix (vic-s). The ablative of this word, vice, gave us our prefix, vice-, as in vice-president, referring to a replacement. The root of this word came through the old Germanic languages to Old English as wice "pliant, bendable', ending up in wicker and as wych in the names of trees with pliant branches, such as the wych hazel. The latter expression, of course, turned into 'witch hazel' when we began to douse for underground water using a Y-shaped branch of witch hazel. Dousers (still) claim such branches bend magically downward toward water when passing over it. (We hope the vicissitudes of Harold Turrentine's life do not discourage him from finding and conveying to us more Good Words like today's.)
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