• primate •
Pronunciation: prai-mayt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. The highest ranking bishop in a province or country, an archbishop. 2. An order of mammals including lemurs, lorises, tarsiers, monkeys, apes, and humans. They are characterized by specialized hands and feet that grasp, stereoscopic eyes, and large brains.
Notes: You probably wonder how a word referring to the highest bishop in a country came to refer to the biological class to which monkeys belong. The Word History help may clear that up. The adjective for the first sense above is primatial or primatic(al); for the second sense it is primatal.
In Play: The first sense of today's Good Word's comfort zone is the Anglican and Catholic Churches: "A majority of Anglican primates at the meeting voted to censure the Episcopal Church over its decision to approve same-sex marriages." As for the other meaning, expect things like this: "Lemurs are primates found only on the island of Madagascar."
Word History: Today's Good Word, in its first sense, was taken from French primat, inherited from Medieval Latin prima(t)s "church primate", the noun use of Latin adjective primas "most important, chief, principal", derived from primus "first". It later migrated to the animals, because they were considered the first among the many orders of mammals. Primus traces its ancestry back to a suffixed form PIE prei- "forward", prei-mos, hence "ahead, first, foremost, chief". Prei- is a suffixed variant of per- "forward, through". It also produced the Latin prefix prae-/pre- "before", which also made its way into English and other IE languages. It shows up in Russian pri "at" and the prefix pri- "toward", as in prikhodit' "to come, arrive". (Now let's thank Joakim Larsson for his patience and persistence in suggesting today's fine Good Word over a year ago.)