• terpsichore •
Pronunciation: têrp-si-kê-ri • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. (Capitalized, Greek mythology) The muse of dance and choral singing. 2. (Uncapitalized) The art of dancing.
Notes: Most dictionaries capitalize this word because it was the name of a Greek muse. I think we can drop the capitalization when we intend the second sense above. The adjective is never capitalized: terpsichorean [têrp-si-kê-ree-ên] "relating to dance". It may also be used nominally to refer to a dancer.
In Play: Since the Greek muses are seldom the topic of current conversations, let's try the second sense of today's Good Word: "Mary Dewey Dance is a student of modern terpsichore." She hopes one day to become a terpsichorean. The adjective comes in handy when you want to distinguish ballet from popular dancing: "Everyone thought Leah Tarde carried herself with terpsichorean elegance."
Word History: Today's word is a borrowing from Latin Terpsichore, borrowed from Greek Terpsikhore, the name of the muse of dance, which was simply the feminine of terpsikhoros "dance-loving". This word was created from terpein "to delight in" + khoros "dance, chorus". The first constituent of this Greek compound seems tied to the PIE root terp- "to satisfy". This root appears only in Eastern PIE languages, like Sanskrit tarpati "satisfies, delights". Khoros is another story. It comes from PIE gher-/ghor- "enclos(ur)e", which turns up in English garden and yard. The sense of "dance" in Greek is presumed to arise from a semantic transfer from reference to an enclosed dance ground. In Latin we see it in hortus "garden", which lies at the root of English horticulture. It also produced South Slavic grad "city", seen in Serbo-Croatian Beograd "Belgrade", the Soviet Russian name of St. Petersburg, Leningrad, and the Russian word gorod "city". (Now let's thank Jan Arps of my native state, North Carolina, for suggesting today's musical Good Word.)