• pediment •
Pronunciation: ped-ê-mênt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. The triangular architectural structure jutting out over the portico, door or, windows of a (classical) building (see graphic). 2. A base, foundation, underlayment. 3. A broad, gently sloping rocky surface that extends outward from the foot of a hill, mountain, or cliff.
Notes: So, why does the word for a structure on top of a door seem to come from the Latin root ped- "foot"? For an attempt at an answer, see the Word History. The adjective is pedimental, though pedimented may be used to mean "having a pediment". Pedimentation refers to the development of a geological pediment.
In Play: Pediments appear on some important buildings: "The words 'Equal Justice Under Law' are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court." They may also appear on some of the humblest buildings: "The 19th century buildings in our town have pediments over the windows and doors."
Word History: The best guess is that today's Good Word started out as a mispronunciation of periment (1590s), a workmen's term, most likely a dialectal garbling of pyramid. The connection could be the triangular shape of both pyramids and pediments. The conversion of the final syllable to -ment suffix could be due to folk etymology. The replacement of the first element with classical Latin ped- would also then be explained by folk etymology. If this speculation contains a grain of truth, we need to look for the etymology of pyramid. This word comes, via Latin and French, from Greek pyramis, pyramid-. The Greek word probably was a rearrangement of Egyptian pimar "pyramid". (Debbie Moggio was curious as to how something atop a door could contain the Latin word for "foot". Let's thank her now for sharing her curiosity with us.)