• immaculate •
Pronunciation: i-mæ-kyê-lêt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Spotless, free of physical, spiritual, or mental blemish. 2. Flawless, without error.
Notes: We often bump into Orphan Negatives, words with a negative meaning but no corresponding positive form. I have in mind words like nonchalant, disgruntled, and unbeknownst. (For an interesting story based on these read "How I Met my Wife".) The positive correlate for today's word, maculate, is still out there, merely abandoned for the time being. It still retains the opposite meaning of immaculate, i.e. "spotted, blemished". Both these words are related to the medical term macula "skin discoloration" or the macula lutea, the "yellow spot" near the retina of the eye that determines visual acuity and color perception. Macular degeneration is a degeneration of the macula lutea that often accompanies aging.
In Play: Today's word is often heard in the phrase 'Immaculate Conception', the concept that Mary was born without the original sin inherited by all mankind as a result of Adam's sin in the Garden of Eden. It was declared to be an article of faith by the Catholic Church in 1854. However, we find many lay uses for this word: "If Derry Yare's speech were as immaculate as her house, she would be an exceptionally pleasant person."
Word History: This Good Word is the English version of Latin immaculatus, the negated past participle of maculare "to blemish, soil", made up of in- "not" + maculatus "blemished". The verb comes from the noun macula "spot, blemish", which made its way down to Italian as macchia "spot", as in latte macchiato "spotted latte". The origin of macula is rather cloudy, possibly because it has lost an initial S, a not uncommon occurrence in the history of Indo-European languages. If the original word did begin with an S, it is probably related to German Schmutz "dirt" and maybe even to schmieren "to smear". (Today we thank Luis Alejandro Apiolaza, Uncronopio in the Alpha Agora, for maintaining his immaculate record of suggesting only fascinating words for our series.)