• fledgling •
Pronunciation: flej-ling • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A young bird that has just developed feathers that allow it to fly. 2. A person or organization that is new at something, inexperienced or underdeveloped.
Notes: This noun has an unusual suffix usually reserved for small or young things: duckling, gosling, foundling. Fledgling fits right into this category. It is a noun derived from the verb fledge "to grow adult feathers". It comes with an adjective that makes me and my spellchecker uncomfortable: fledgeless "unfledged". We prefer unfledged.
In Play: The original sense of today's word may be used in sentences like this: "Adult birds sometimes have trouble getting fledglings to leave the nest and go out on their own." The metaphorical sense may be used in sentences like this: "Barnaby Bailey's fledgling firm that manufactures helicopter ejection seats has little chance of survival."
Word History: Today's Good Word comes from Old English flycge "able to fly, fledged" from PIE pleu-/plou- "to flow", extended by a suffx -k, pleuk- "to fly, having feathers fit to fly". In some languages the original stem was converted to a sense of flying or flowing in air. In fact, both English fly and flow come from the same PIE root with and without the suffix -k. The Old English word for "fly", fleogan, and Modern German fliegen "to fly" reflect the presence of the original -k suffix. This root developed into pluvia "rain" in Latin. The adjective for this word, pluvialis, was borrowed by English as pluvial. (Our fine-feathered friend, Rob Towart, is owed our undying gratitude for suggesting yet another soaring Good Word.)