Printable Version
Pronunciation: ê-jahr Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective, Defective

Meaning: 1. Slightly open (door, window). 2. Disconnected, at odds, out of kilter.

Notes: Today's Good Word is what I call in my scholarly research "defective adjectives". I gave them that name (no one else had bothered to name them) because in phrases like, "The door is ajar", they behave like adjectives but just barely; you cannot speak of the ajar door nor derive nouns like ajarness or adverbs like ajarly from them, as you can from normal adjectives. There are hundreds of these adjectives and we create more every day: aloft, atwitter, afloat, aboard, aground and afire, are just a sampling.

In Play: I notice that US dictionaries only list the first meaning of today's Good Word: "Last Thanksgiving Lydia Potts left the door ajar as she was baking the turkey and the aroma enticed all the neighborhood dogs to the table." I hope the turkey survived for the meal. The second meaning is about to be shaken loose; let's not let that happen: "Andover Hand is so ajar with the world that he thought he could climb Mount Everest and be home in a week."

Word History: This word originally contained two constituents, a "on, at" + char (or chare) "a turn, to turn", a relative of Modern German kehren "to turn". When English went through its French-gobbling period, it chose French tourner for this meaning, shortening it to turn and turning its back on char. But remnants of char remain. The phrase a char "on (a) turn" became the adjective ajar. In fact, many phrases with the old preposition a "on" went the same way, giving us all those odd little adjectives mentioned above in the Notes. Char itself assumed the sense of "a turn of work" and stayed on in words like charwoman. By itself it slipped quietly into chore. Maybe that is why those who think that closing the door is a chore, leave it ajar. Maybe not. (We must thank Kathleen McCune now of Sweden, who isn't in the least ajar with alphaDictionary, for leading us into all the twists and turns of today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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