lis-êm • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Supple, slender, gracefully limber and agile.
Notes: As today's Word History will show, lissome, lithesome, and lithe all share the identical meaning and are variations of one and the same word. Those slender enough can walk about lissomely as a result of their lissomeness.
In Play: Lissome implies movement facilitated by slenderness and flexibility: "Grace had grown into a charming, lissome teen-ager who leapt across the stage in her tutu effortlessly." This word refers to slender things but it implies motion: "Ages ago, when I was winsome and lissome, I could dance the limbo under a rod less than 2 feet from the floor."
Word History: Today's Good Word reflects remarkable indecision in the minds of English speakers over a particularly long period of time. The original word was lithe [laidh] which was first extended for no apparent reason to lithesome [laidh-sÍm] and then reduced to lissome—all without the slightest shift in meaning. The original stem shows up in some languages related to English with an N, as we see in German lind "soft, dulcet" and Latin lentus "soft, pliant, tough". (We owe a debt of gratitude to the lissome mind of Dr. Lyn Laboriel for suggesting today's delightful lexical tidbit.)
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