• mantra •
mæn-trê • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A sacred phrase of Hinduism, repeated in prayer or meditation as an invocation to the gods. 2. Any phrase or position on an issue that is monotonously repeated over and over.
Notes: Today's word comes straight from Sanskrit but, like all the words that English helps itself to in other languages, it has taken on its own English sense. It is a lexical orphan; it has no verb or adjective relatives.
In Play: Although Hindus still consider mantras sacred, in the English language the word has taken on a distinctly pejorative sense: "Every time I ask Mr. Welch for a raise, he repeats his mantra about cutting costs." Keep this word away from your children. You don't want to hear things like, "Mom! I'm sick and tired of your mantra about cleaning up my room!"
Word History: Today's Good Word was originally Sanskrit, meaning "a (sacred) thought, counsel" from manyate "he thinks". This same verb also underlies Spanish mandarin "high-ranking government official", borrowed from Malay menteri, which got it from Sanskrit mantri(n) "counselor", mantr with the suffix -i(n). If this word reminds you of mental, you are right on track. This English word comes from the related Latin word mens, mentis "mind", which later became a suffix meaning "the idea of", found in borrowed words like statement and agreement. Though a praying mantra is quite different from a praying mantis, their names spring from the same stock: Greek mantis "prophet, seer", a word also connected with minds and thinking. English mind? This is our legitimate heir to the same ancient original root (*men-) which probably meant "to think".
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