• trapeze •
Pronunciation: træ-peez • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A gymnastic or acrobatic device consisting of a short parallel bar suspended between two ropes. 2. A sling at the end of a rope attached to the masthead of a sailboat.
Notes: I have for a long time wondered what trapeze, trapezoid, and Russian trapeznaia "refectory" had in common. In researching today's Good Word, I found out (see Word history). Someone who performs on a trapeze is known as a trapezist.
In Play: A popular song of the 19th century, which was most popular under the "big top", was "The Man on the Flying Trapeze". It is about a trapezist who stole the singer's girl, took her away to the circus, and trained her to be a trapezist.
Word History: Today's Good Word has a fascinating history. It originates in Late Latin trapezium "trapezoid", from Greek trapezion "irregular quadrilateral", originally "little table", the diminutive of trapeza "table, dining table". This explains the sense of "refectory", the room with tables. A trapezoid is a variation of a rectangle, the shape of most table tops. The lines of a trapeze form an irregular quadrilateral, so the picture shows how that analogy arose. Trapeza was a Greek concoction from tra- the combining form for "four" + peza "foot, leg", a form akin to pous "foot". The Greek full form for "four", tetra, is a reduction of PIE root kwetwer- "four", which became quattuor in Latin, which English borrowed for quarter. (Many thanks to Jan Arps of Greensboro, North Carolina, for today's historically fascinating Good Word.)