Printable Version
Pronunciation: æp-ê-si--tik Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Serving as a warning sign, a signal of danger, used mostly in biology in referring to recognizable markings on the prey of predatory animals that warn the predator not to attack.

Notes: Today's word is a derivation built upon the word aposeme "warning signs", itself based on seme "sign", used mainly in linguistics. The noun for this adjective is aposematism, though you may run across aposematicity in biological research. (It occurs only three times on the Web.)

In Play: Aposematic markings are usually taken to refer to antipredator mechanisms: "The porcupine's asematic markings double as its defense mechanism." However, the actual sense of the word is much broader: "Maude Lynn Dresser's clothing is an aposematic signal to all men."

Word History: Today's Good Word comprises a Greek prefix apo- "(away) from, off" + sema(t-) "sign, signal". The prefix apo- is identical to the PIE word apo- "off, away", which produced off and aft(er) in English. Russian lost the initial A but retained the rest for its preposition-prefix po "by, at, according to" and pozdno "late". Lithuanian did the same thing for its pas "at, by". Latin kept the vowel but lost the O to produce ab "(away) from", visible in various English borrowings like absent and abduct. Remarkably, English puny evolved from the same PIE source. In Britain some speakers still spell it puisne, as it was when first borrowed from Old French. The French word was based on puis "afterward" + ne "born", i.e. "born late", implying runtiness. French puis is what was left from Latin post "behind, after", which was derived from apo- via pos-ti. (The ever mysterious Grogie of the Agora, master of the outskirts of English, recommended that we do today's actually useful Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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