• rhabdomancy •
Pronunciation: ræb-dê-mæn-see • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass
Meaning: Divination of the location of water, oil, etc. by means of a divining rod or stick; dowsing, witch-wiggling.
Notes: A diviner, dowser, or witch-wiggler is a rhabdomancer, though it is doubtful that any of them would recognize the word. Witch-wiggler comes from the fact that contemporary rhabdomancers prefer a Y-shaped branch of a witch hazel tree. The branches of the Y-shaped stick are held in each hand while the dowser walks about until the branch begins "wiggling" on its own, indicating the location of the desired object or substance. The adjective, of course, is rhabdomanic and someone who practices rhabdomancy is a rhabdomancer.
In Play: Rhabdomancy is a technique for finding what is difficult to discover or uncover, "When there's work to be done, we need rhabdomancy to find Buzzy." However, it is most closely associated with the discovery of liquid: "I've tried everything short of rhabdomancy to find something to drink in this house! Is it totally dry?"
Word History: Today's Good Word comes from Greek rhabdomanteia based on rhabdos "rod" + manteia "divination". The PIE root is werb- or werbh- "to turn, bend" that also developed into English warp and wrap. Other variants of this stem underlie rhapsody from Greek rhapsôidia based on rhapsis "stitching together" (from rhaptein "to sew") + oide "song, ode" + ia, a noun suffix. The suffix -mancy comes from Late Latin -mantia inherited from Greek manteia "divination." This relates today's word with an earlier Good Word, gastromancy "divination by means of stomach rumblings." They can cause a bit of wiggling, too.