• somersault •
Pronunciation: sêm-êr-sawlt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. The acrobatic maneuver of rolling forward on your head and doing a complete flip-flop, a forward flip, a tumbleset. 2. A joyous flip-flop, a complete reversal of opinion or sympathies.
Notes: Today's word has no commonly encountered relative, but it is occasionally used as a verb, to somersault, which makes somersaulter a possibility. It is used metaphorically to indicate absolute joy in the phrase "to do somersaults". In several dialects this word has been further reduced to somerset by folk etymology. In some areas of the US South it has been combined with tumble to produce tumbleset with the same meaning.
In Play: Your basic somersault results from putting your head on the ground and kicking so that you flip over. You need to be sure of where you are going to land before you begin, though: "Minnie Miles is all wet because she did a somersault on the creek bank and tumbled in." You don't need to do actual somersaults when you are out of your head with joy to correctly claim: "We were so happy when they found natural gas in our backyard that we all did somersaults."
Word History: Somersault was borrowed from an Old French sombresault, an inexplicable variant of sobresault. This word is a compound from Old Provençal that goes back to Latin supra "over" + saltus "a leap", the noun of salire "to leap". The Proto-Indo-European root underlying Latin supra ended up as English over and Greek hyper. Hyper we use as is today in the sense of "over (the norm)" and also as a prefix, as in hypertension. Salire also led up to English saltate and salient, neither of which has anything to do with salt. (We all did somersaults when Gianni Tamburini, Cacasenno of the Alpha Agora, suggested we do this Good Word.)