• perigee •
Pronunciation: per-rê-jee • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. The point in the orbit of a satellite closest to the object it orbits, periapsis. Antonym of apogee (apoapsis), the point farthest from the object of the orbit. 2. The low point of anything capable of high and low points, such as 'perigee of his career'.
Notes: Today's Good Word is used mostly by astronomers, except when a full moon reaches its perigee; then it is much more likely to turn up in the media. If the moon is full when it reaches its perigee, it is called by some a 'blood moon', because the Earth's shadow gives the moon a reddish tint. Perigee is accompanied by two adjectives, perigeal and perigean.
In Play: What the bloody . . .When it is used in the media, it usually refers to the moon: "A 'supermoon', a moon that is about 13% larger than otherwise, is caused when a perigee moon happens at the same time as a full moon." This word is used, however infrequently, figuratively as well: "Their marriage hit its perigee when Winifred came home early from work and found her spouse in bed with two of her girl friends."
Word History: English borrowed this word from—where else?— French périgée from Latin perigeum from Late Greek perigeion. The Greek word is a compound noun made up of peri- "around" + ge "earth", an adjective from a shortening of the phrase perigeion semeion "perigee point". No one knows where ge came from, but we do know that it appears in George, comprising ge "earth" + ergon "work". We do know a lot about peri-. The PIE word that produced it emerged in Latin as per "through, across" and in English as for. Frump resulted from a mispronunciation of Middle Dutch verrompelen "to wrinkle" with the prefix ver- "completely", from the same PIE per-. Middle English borrowed the Dutch word as frumple "wrinkle". Frump is a reduction of that word. (Let's now thank our old friend Brian Johnson, who lives in Tokyo, for his recommendation of today's Good Word via the Agora.)