• septentrion •
Pronunciation: sep-ten-tri-ên • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: (Archaic) 1. The north, northern regions. 2. The constellation of the Little Bear.
Notes: I seldom run archaic or obsolete words. I write them up occasionally if I think we might meet them in historical works. This word has, occasionally, been used to refer to a northerner, though the adjective, septentrional "northern", is more often used in this service.
In Play: This word is an arcane expression for "north" that does pop up occasionally on the Web: "These days (summer of 2017), I'm glad my family settled to the septentrion of North Carolina." The same may be said of the adjective: "Those days in Chapel Hill, when the septentrional blasts were blanketing the town with freezing rain, are particularly easy to recall."
Word History: Today's Good Word entered Middle English from Old French, which inherited it from Latin septentriones "seven-plow oxen", referring to the seven principal stars of Ursa Major or Ursa Minor. This compound noun comprises septem "seven" + triones, the plural of trio(n) "plow ox". The same PIE word that produced septem in Latin ended up in Old Germanic as sebun, which made it to English as seven and German as sieben. French merely omitted the suffix on the Latin word to make it sept. The PIE word that came to be trio(n) in Latin was ter-/tor- "to rub, turn, drill" in PIE. It went on to become English thrash, thresh, and throw. (We offer thanks to Rob Towart for today's Good Word, from such an arcane vocabulary that defies description.)