• amalgam •
ê-mæl-gêm • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. An alloy of mercury with another metal, especially those used for filling teeth. 2. A well-integrated blend of otherwise various and diverse things.
Notes: This word is the patriarch to a large family based on the verb derived from it, amalgamate. It includes the noun amalgamation, the adjective amalgamative, and the person noun, amalgamator. The verb means (1) to alloy with mercury or (2) to join and integrate, as Acme Amalgamated Industries, implying a group of distinct business entities that have been acquired and integrated into one company.
In Play: Our primary source of amalgam is dentists, who once used amalgams to fill cavities: "His mouth is so full of amalgam that he receives radio broadcasts from outer space." However, anything containing well mixed and integrated ingredients is an amalgam: "Her theory is little more than an amalgam of bits and pieces from other theories and contains nothing new."
Word History: Today's word began its life in the alchemist's lab in the 13th century, perhaps as a corruption of Latin malagma "poultice, plaster". This word was borrowed from Greek malagma "emollient, softening substance", from the verb malassein "to soften", which was derived from malakos "soft". It is possible that the initial [a] came from an Arabic version of the Greek, al-malgham "the poultice". However, there is no convincing evidence of Arabic involvement and a simple corruption seems more likely. (We were happy to amalgamate Tim Ward's suggestion of this word with our own thoughts to produce today's Good Word.)
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