• oblivion •
Pronunciation: ê-bli-vi-yên • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: 1. The state of being totally forgotten, complete unawareness. 2. Extinction, complete destruction; nothingness.
Notes: Today's Good Word has a large and extended family. The most common adjective is oblivious. The noun obliviescence "forgetfulness" is alive and well among psychologists. The verb obliviate "commit to oblivion" and synonyms obliviance and obliviancy are rarely used today.
In Play: We may reach oblivion very easily either by overdrinking or dozing off: "Watching a romantic movie after lunch throws Madeleine quickly into oblivion". Anything may be obliviated in the second sense above: "Wilbur could feel his career spiraling into oblivion, and he couldn't do anything to stop it."
Word History: English borrowed today's Good Word directly from Latin oblivio(n) "forgetfulness", the noun from obliviscor "to forget" made up of ob "to, against" + liv- the combining form of levis "(rubbed) smooth". Levis apparently was made from Proto-Indo-European (s)lei-w- "slime, slimy". The connection between "smooth" and "slimy" is understandable. Obliviscor originally meant "to erase", making the connection between rubbing and forgetfulness. The PIE word also emerged in Latin as limus "slime", borrowed by English via French as lime. The Germanic languages kept the Fickle S, so it turned up in English with different PIE suffixes as slime, slip, and slick. (Let's all give thanks now to our friend of many years, Rob Towart, for suggesting today's most fascinating Good Word.)