• volitant •
Pronunciation: vah-li-tênt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Flitting about like a small bird, fluttering, scurrying around, scampering in all directions.
Notes: Some dictionaries confuse this word with volant "flying, capable of flight". In Latin it only meant "fluttering about" (see Word History), which is the only definition listed in the Oxford English Dictionary. Try to keep these two adjectives discrete. It is directly related to volitate "to fly with a fluttering motion", whose action noun is volitation.
In Play: The image that volitant immediately calls to mind is a small bird fluttering its wings in flight: "When the cat came into the room, the canary became violently volitant." However, this adjective is not limited to avian references: "The work proceeded like volitant children on a playground."
Word History: Today's Good Word comes directly from Latin volitare "to flit about, to flutter about". Another English word, based on the same root, volant "flying, capable of flight", was borrowed from French. Volitare was a frequentative of volare "to fly" in Latin. Italian preserved the latter as is, exemplified in the famous Dean Martin rendition of the Italian song "Volare" (= "to fly"). The origin of the Latin word is something of a mystery. There was a PIE word wel-/wol-, but it meant "to wish, will", which turns up in the English will and borrowings volition and volunteer. However, it would seem impossible to make a semantic connection between the sense of wel-/wol- and "to fly". (We should all thank Luciano Eduardo de Oliveira, not only for the excellent Good Words like today's he has recommended, but for his service as an editor of the Good Word series for almost 15 years now.)