• hymeneal •
Pronunciation: hai-mê-nee-êl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. (Adjective) Related to marriage or a wedding. 2. (Noun) A wedding song or poem. 3. (Noun) Nuptials, a wedding ceremony.
Notes: Today's word has no relatives with a similar meaning. There is little to say about it except to be careful of the pronunciation, since English would allow the accent to fall on any of the first three syllables.
In Play: Today's lovely offering provides a contrast to nuptial when that word simply isn't enough: "The hymeneal decorations for their nuptials in the church were positively resplendent!" Remember that it is also associated with music and poetry written for the occasion of a wedding: "He wrote a beautiful hymeneal sonnet for his bride that would have made her very happy had he not slipped at one point and mentioned the name of his last girl friend."
Word History: This Good Word is an example of just how far the meaning of a word can drift over a long period of time. It is an adjective related to the nouns hymen "membrane" and Hymen, the Greek god of marriages. These words come from Proto-Indo-European syu- "sew" + -men, a noun suffix. The root came to English as sew, but in Latin it became suere "to sew, stitch", whose past participle, sutus, gave us suture. What about the Kamasutra, which defines marital pleasure according to Hindu law? It comes from kamah "love" + sutram "thread", with which we sew. (Of course, we all love Luciano Eduardo de Oliveira, one of the stalwart editors of this series, when he sends us lovely Good Words like today's.)