• smidgen •
Pronunciation: smi-jin • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A bit, a smidge, a tiny amount, a whit, an iota.
Notes: Today's word has been spelled smidgin, and Merriam-Webster and several other dictionaries list that spelling as "less common". It has no lexical family, but a lot of similar words: smidge, smitch, smit, and smite have, over the years, borne the same meaning.
In Play: Today's Good Word usually refers to a very small amount of something concrete: "Mama, you told Gwendolyn to share her piece of cake, but she only gave me a smidgen!" It can also be used in reference to abstractions: "Gwendolyn showed only a smidgen of generosity to her sibling."
Word History: This word has been around since the mid-19th century. Its origin remains something of a mystery, though it is clearly an Americanism. It could have resulted from a mispronunciation of smitch + -en, a common enough suffix in English. Given the alternate spelling smidgin, the suffix might be a dialectal pronunciation of -ing. Certainly, smidge is a word, but it has only been around since the beginning of the 20th century, so it is probably a shortening of smidgen. Smidge is midge with an initial S; however, the Fickle S is no part of Modern English. It could be related to smit and to the noun smite "bit, particle", a chip produced by a smite. We do find similar words in other Germanic languages like Norwegian smitt "crumb" and a geological term in German Schmitzen "streaks". Bottom line: who knows?