Printable Version
Pronunciation: bay--mê-rêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Today's Good Word does not refer to an animal with two humps but to 1. a legislature or other organization with two distinct bodies, as the US Congress with its House of Representatives and Senate, or 2. anything with two chambers or hollow spaces, as a bicameral heart.

Notes: The root of this Good Word, camera, is an excellent example of how the meanings of words change. It originally meant "room" and still is used to refer to a judge's chambers (to meet in camera). But the first photographic camera emerged from experiments with a camera obscura "dark room". Light was admitted into a camera obscura only through a small pinhole that projected an upside-down picture on the opposing wall. The first camera was called a camera obscura but since obscura was such an obscure word, it was dropped as the years shuffled by.

In Play: Of course, you wouldn't want less than a bicameral legislature, with each house reflecting an important set of interests. In the US it is the interests of the states (the House) and those of the nation as a whole (the Senate). In the United Kingdom it was originally those of the upper classes (House of Lords) and those of hoi polloi (House of Commons). Since rooms are chambers, too, you might tell your friends, "We just found the cutest bicameral apartment in mid-Manhattan" and leave them thinking you live in much more spacious quarters than you actually do.

Word History: The semantic trip of camera through English is only the tip of the iceberg. Bicameral goes back to Late Latin bi- "two" + camera "room, chamber". (English chamber, of course, was borrowed from French chambre "room", which was derived from the same Latin word.) In earlier Latin, however, camera meant "a vault, place with arched ceiling". This meaning corresponds to that of Greek kamara "something with an arched ceiling or cover". Now, since kmarati in Sanskrit means "is bent", we are led to conclude that the original root meant "bend" or "arch" and was later associated with things with arches.

Dr. Goodword,

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