Printable Version
Pronunciation: æng-gwin Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Pertaining to snakes. 2. Snake-like, resembling a snake in its long, narrow shape or curviness.

Notes: Today's word is an alternative to serpentine when you wish to refer specifically to snakes rather than to the more fanciful serpent. Joseph Le Fanu wrote in Tenants of Malory (1871), "Her beautiful eyebrows wore that anguine curve, which is the only approach to a scowl painters' accord to angels." Serpentine just would not work in this instance. Another form of the same stem with the same meaning is anguineous [ng-gwi-ni-ys]. The expected noun is anguinity.

In Play: Remember that this word has two basic meanings. The first is simply long and slender: "Anna Rexia's body was so lithe and anguine, it begged the suspicion that she suffered from a severe eating disorder." "Curving" is the second meaning of today's word. "Her hair was arranged in such dark anguine ringlets, she reminded him of Medusa."

Word History: Latin anguin-us "pertaining to a snake" was the adjective of anguis "snake". The root goes back to a set of very similar PIE roots meaning "narrow" that resulted in German eng "narrow" and Russian uzkii "narrow" and uzh "grass-snake" from Old Slavic anzki. Latin also had a word angustus "tight, narrow", based on the verb ang(u)ere "to squeeze, tighten" since tightening often narrows the thing tightened. If so, today's word is distantly related to anguish, borrowed from Old French anguisse "choking", inherited from Latin angustiae "tightness, distress." It would then also be akin to hangnail, a folk etymology of Old English ang-ngl "tight (toe)nail". Finally, today's word certainly has something in common with anguillous "eel-like." (Our thanks to Jan Schneider of Port Franks, Ontario, for snaking this word to us through the forest of e-mail we receive each day.)

Dr. Goodword,

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