Printable Version
Pronunciation: vêrj Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, verb

Meaning: 1. (Noun) Brink, border, edge, the time just before the beginning. 2. (Verb) To be on the brink, border, edge, come close to, border on, to be just before. 3. (British) The shoulder of a road.

Notes: We have two qualitative nouns for this word, vergence and vergency, which have, unusually, two different meanings. Vergence is used mostly in ophthalmology to indicate the simultaneous movement of the eyes toward or away from each other as objects they are focused on move closer or father away. Vergency refers to the condition of verging on or inclining toward.

In Play: People are often on the verge of something: "Fred was on the verge of asking June McBride to marry him when he suddenly remembered his wife." All of us may be on the verge of things simultaneously: "Artificial intelligence puts mankind on the verge of incredible new power at a time when we are also on the verge of destroying the planet we live on."

Word History: Most etymologists argue that today's Good Word was borrowed from French verge "stick, cane, rod" but are left without an explanation of the semantic shift. I prefer an origin in Latin vergere "to bend, turn, incline" with the intervening stages lost in the dust of history. The Latin verb came from PIE wer-/wor- "to turn, bend" + a suffix -g. The problem here is the paucity of IE languages that have this suffix in the face of thousands that have come with -t. I would propose that wer-/wor- blended or compounded with ger-/gor- "to wind, twist". Then we have from wer-/wor- Sanskrit vartatate "turns around, rolls", Greek rhatane "ladle (stirrer)", Russian vorotit' "to turn back, return" and vorotnik "collar", Serbian vratiti "to return", and Lithuanian versti "to turn, translate". From ger-/gor- we find Greek gerron "wicker-work", Serbian grč "cramp", Swedish krage "collar", German Kringel "curl, ring", and English crook. (Let's now thank our old South African friend Christ Stewart for his suggestion of today's fascinating Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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