• tenor •
Pronunciation: ten-êr • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. The highest male singing range, between baritone and alto. 2. A singer performing in that range. 3. The general drift, intent, character, nature, quality, as 'to dislike the tenor of the debate'.
Notes: Do not confuse this word with tenure, as was the case from the 13th through the 18th centuries. Today this word is a lexical orphan, though tenoral has been used in the past in the third sense above. A tenorist is a player of the tenor sax, and a tenoroon is a reed instrument with a pitch between that of an oboe and bassoon.
In Play: Here is a sentence exemplifying the non-musical sense of today's Good Word: "Randolph disagreed not only with the substance of Malcolm's article, but its tenor, too." The musical sense is not limited to musical contexts: "When Stanley stepped on Rudolph's' toes, Rudolph bellowed in that beautiful tenor voice of his."
Word History: Today's Good word was borrowed from Old French tenor "substance, sense; tenor part in music" (Modern French teneur "content" and ténor, the singing voice). French inherited the word from Latin tenor "a course, stretch (of distance)", originally "continuance, sustainment" from tenere "to hold". Latin created this word from PIE ten-/ton- "to stretch", source also of Latin tendo(n) "tendon", which English purloined, and tensus "tight", past participle of tenere, which English, ever greedy for vocabulary, also borrowed via French as tense. The PIE word (ten-) made its way through its Germanic ancestors and to English as thin. The musical sense of "high male voice" is so called because the drawn out melody (canto fermo) was carried by the tenors in a chorus. (Yet again we owe gratitude to wordmaster Rob Towart, prolific contributor to our cooperative series with curious little Good Words like today's.)