• lull •
Pronunciation: lêl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb
Meaning: 1. To sooth with the voice. 2. To relax or calm someone or something, reducing alertness.
Notes: This word may be used as a noun meaning "a relatively calm interval" in the midst of some activity, as 'a lull in the storm' or 'a lull in traffic'. Lullaby is obviously an irregular derivation from this verb; I say 'irregular' because of the unusual suffix -(a-)by. This suffix is used only with words related to babies: by-by, hush-a-by, rock-a-by (baby).
In Play: Today's Good Word is historically related to sleep: "They talked deep into the night until their conversation lulled them to sleep." However, since we are defenseless when we sleep, the meaning has expanded to apply to a reduction of alertness to anything: "The political speeches lulled a large portion of the electorate into thinking taxes could be reduced ad infinitum."
Word History: In Middle English today's word was lullen "hush to sleep" probably an onomatopoeic construction from the lu-lu sound used to lull a child to sleep. We also find it in Swedish lulla "to hum a lullaby", Danish lulle "to hum", Dutch lullen "to prattle on", German lullen "to rock". It must be an old onomatopoeic form for we find it back as far as Latin lallare "to sing a lullaby" and Sanskrit lolati "moves to and fro".