• phalanx •
fay-længks (US), fæ-lænks (UK) • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. An ancient Macedonian battle formation of spear-wielding foot soldiers operating behind a wall of overlapping shields 2. A compact body of first-responders or troops standing or moving in close formation. 3. Any compact body of people brought together for a single purpose. 4. A bone in the finger or toe.
Notes: We have our choice of plurals for this word, phalanges [fay-læn-jeez]) or phalanxes [fay-lænk-siz]. The adjective is phalangeal. Remember it, because it is pronounced identical to phalangial, a spelling that is now considered archaic.
In Play: When the meaning of today's Good Word escaped the military, it directly entered the world of first responders: "The protestors were met by a phalanx of policemen in full riot gear". From there it moved on to refer to any close-knit group of people united by a single purpose: "When the managers of the Cook, Books, and Hyde accounting firm emerged from the courtroom, they were met by a phalanx of screaming reporters."
Word History: This word is Latin phalanx (falang-s) "compact body of heavily armed soldiers lined up in full battle array", which was borrowed directly from Greek phalanx (genitive phalangos) "battle array", but also "finger or toe bone". Greek inherited this word from PIE bhelg- "plank, beam", source also of English balk "roof beam" and Russian balka "beam". The Macedonian phalanx consisted of 50 close files of 16 men each, united by overlapping shields. Finger and toe joints were adopted into the meaning of this word because they fit together tightly like infantry in close order. (Now let's offer Jackie Strauss of Philadelphia a phalangeal show of gratitude for recommending yet another exciting Good Word.)
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