• transom •
Pronunciation: træn-sêm • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. Short for 'transom window', a small hinged window above a door. 2. A wooden or stone crossbeam separating two parts of a window or a window from a door. 3. The stern of a square-sterned boat or a beam supporting such a stern. 4. The horizontal beam of a cross or gallows.
Notes: Transoms today are a tad out of style. The word transom is protected from extinction by the idiom 'over the transom' meaning "unsolicited". The word itself is, however, a precarious lexical orphan.
In Play: Transom windows were initially intended to provide a draft for a stuffy room or apartment. Air conditioning made them obsolete, but the word survives in the idiom, which is still alive and well: "The money coming in through the door never met the bills coming in over the transom." Publishers often receive manuscripts 'over the transom', even by mail.
Word History: Today's Good Word was lent to us by Latin. Its word transtrum "crossbeam" was made up from trans- "across, over" + -trum, instrumental noun suffix. Trans- could be the present participle of some verb trare "to cross over" that did not survive. It surely came from the PIE word tere-/tra- "cross over or through, overcome", which also went into the making of Old English thurh and thuruh, which went on to become today's through and thorough. The suffix -trum was handed down from PIE -trom, the neuter singular of -tros "related to doing, doer", hence the instrumental sense in Latin. We see it, too, in Greek -tron as in metron "measuring device" and theatron "theater". (Today a round of applause is due Barbara Beeton, who has become a new regular contributor of Good Words.)