• midriff •
Pronunciation: mid-rif • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. Belly, stomach, diaphragm, the part of the body extending from the chest to just below the waist. 2. That part of clothing that covers the belly. 3. The middle part of anything, as 'the planet's tropical midriff'.
Notes: This word almost became obsolete after the 18th century but was revived by the fashion industry in the 1940s as a euphemism for belly. It has remained a lexical orphan since Old English.
In Play: The most frequent use of today's Good Word is in the first sense: "When he told his wife, 'No bare midriff', she punched him in the midriff." Less often we hear the next two meanings: "Surprisingly, Maude Lynn Dresser came to the party in a rather plain dress gathered at the midriff."
Word History: This word has been around since Old English midhrif "diaphragm", comprising mid + hrif "belly". Mid came to English via its Germanic ancestors from the PIE root medhyo- "middle", source also of Latin medium "middle, center" and Greek mesos "middle, between", as in Mesopotamia, literally "the place between (meso-) + rivers (potamos)". Medal is also based on this PIE root. In Vulgar (street) Latin medialia meant "half denarius coin, medal". It was the neuter plural of medialis "middle, medial", apparently used for medals. Hrif cane from PIE root kwrep-/kwrop- "body, form", appearance", source also of Latin corpus (plural corpora) "body". English borrowed this word outright referring to a body of writing. We also modified it for our corpse and borrowed the French modification of the same word, corps, for a body of soldiers. (Now we come to a note of gratitude to Eileen Opiolka for wondering about today's Good Word and sharing her wonder with us.)