• leeway •Pronunciation: lee-way • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. The drift of a vessel (aircraft or boat) to the leeward side (with or away from the wind). 2. Additional room in which to operate, slack, buffer space, freedom to vary within limits.
Notes: Today's word comes from an English noun seldom used today, lee "protection, shelter, the side away from the wind". The same noun went into the making of leeward, which can mean "the direction the wind is blowing, away from the wind". As today's contributor pointed out, leeward is sometimes pronounced [luwêrd], especially in reference to the Leeward Islands. Ordinarily, however, this word is remarkable in that it is pronounced exactly the way it is spelled (see Pronunciation).
In Play: We should not forget that today's Good Word is used in sailing and aeronautics to indicate the direction of the wind: "Drifting leeway all night as he gigged for flounder in the shallow waters of the sound had left Rusty Hook hopelessly lost." We use it more often today, however, to avoid its mundane slang synonym (cut me some) slack: "Anita Job could have held her position had her boss given her more leeway in the time he expected her to arrive at her desk."
Word History: The noun at the base of today's Good Word, lee, came from Old English hleo "shelter", a word related to Danish læ and Dutch lij with the same meaning. Hleo came from an Old Germanic variant, khlewo-, of an earlier Proto-Indo-European word, klew-/kelw- "warm". We know this word earlier had a [w] in it because the klew- variant emerged in English with a K-suffix as luke, still in lukewarm, whose U is pronounced with lips puckered just as they are when pronouncing W. The kelw- variant emerged in Latin as calor "heat", from which English borrowed calorie. Spanish and Portuguese maintained it as calor "warmth", while French converted it into chaleur "heat, warmth". (Let us now warmly thank Brock Putnam for suggesting we do leeward and ask his forgiveness for our finding a better story in today's closely related Good Word.)