• aphrodisiac •
Pronunciation: æ-frê-deez-i-æk • Hear it!
Meaning: A substance that arouses passionate sensual desire.
Notes: Today's Good Word is probably used more than the noun, aphrodisia "passionate love" it is derived from. As the suffix -ac aptly demonstrates, this word is actually an adjective, as in 'an aphrodisiac draft' (or draught), but today it is used almost exclusively as a noun. This has led some writers to create a new adjective, aphrodisiacal. Since so many English adjectives serve as nouns and vice versa, it is simpler just to use aphrodisiac in both noun and adjective positions.
In Play: "Remember that today's word is at heart an adjective: "Ann Chovee never wore perfume, relying solely on the aphrodisiac scents of her body to lure eligible bachelors to her apartment." Otherwise, anything suspected of increasing someone's ardor passes muster as an aphrodisiac: "Les Canoodle could think of no greater aphrodisiac than the eyes of Barbie Dahl in the candlelight."
Word History: Today's Good Word is an English remake of Greek aphrodisiakos "inducing passionate love," from aphrodisia "passionate love". This word came from the eponym Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. The goddess of love for the ancient Phoenicians was Astarte, a goddess shared by the Hebrews as a consort of Baal, and probably inherited from Babylonian Ishtar. The Greeks apparently borrowed this goddess even though the Greek poet Hesiod claimed that she was born of the foam of the sea, in Greek, aphros. Apparently this word influenced the pronunciation of the goddess's name, converting it to Aphrodite by folk etymology. (Let's now thank Jeremy Busch for suggesting this lexical aphrodisiac for all our minds.)