Printable Version
Pronunciation: ê-ten-yu-ayt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: 1. To lessen, reduce, or reduce the effect of; to ameliorate. 2. To thin in consistency, reduce density, rarefy.

Notes: One of the adjectives accompanying today's word is spelled identically but is pronounced distinctly: attenuate [ê-ten-yu-êt]. It means "slender, tapered" and "thin in consistency, rarefied". This is a slightly lovelier word than today's Good Word, one that slips easily from our lips. The activity noun is attenuation, of course, and the person or thing that attenuates something is an attenuator.

In Play: You may use this word to politely ask an upstairs neighbor, who is bigger than you, to quieten down: " Rocky, would you please attenuate your music a bit." Otherwise, use it anywhere you might use reduce under more commonplace circumstances. "When June McBride entered the apartment of Phil Anders, she felt uncomfortable with the attenuated lighting and soft, romantic music."

Word History: This word was snitched from Latin attenuatus "enfeebled, weak", the past participle of attenuare "to weaken, lessen, diminish", and adapted to English. This word consists of ad- "(up)to" + tenuare "make thin," from tenuis "thin". It came from Proto-Indo-European ten-/ton- "to stretch, extend", which ended up in English as thin, how stretchable things become when stretched. Tenuous was borrowed from a derivative of tenuare, originally in the sense of "long and thin". It is easy to see how this meaning slipped into "flimsy, weak". Finally, notice that the PIE word had two forms, ten- and ton-. We don't know why they were distinguished, only that we can trace back some words to either of the two forms. The English word tone comes from Greek tonos "string (for a musical instrument)", something else that is stretched.

Dr. Goodword,

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