• bivouac •
bi-vu-wæk • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, Verb, intransitive
Meaning: 1. Temporary quarters or campsite for a short stay, usually for soldiers, hikers, or mountain climbers. 2. A temporary campsite offering little shelter for a short stay.
Notes: Today's Good Word may be used 'as is' for a verb meaning to set up a bivouac, as to bivouac in the school gym during a storm. When suffixes beginning with a vowel are added to this stem, the root is extended by a K: bivouacs but bivouacked and bivouacking. Someone who bivouacs would be a bivouacker.
In Play: Today's Good Word is still used more in military contexts than in any other: "That night our outfit bivouacked in what we thought was an open field only to wake up in the morning surrounded by a herd of cows." However, it has long since escaped the exclusive domain of soldiering: "Kelly's brother bivouacked on the couch in our living room for three weeks before he found a job."
Word History: The spelling of today's word gives away its French origin: bivouac. This word seems to have arisen during the Thirty Years War from bivac, a dialectal variant of Swiss German Beiwacht "night watch", a supplementary night patrol carried out by civilians during that war. The Swiss German word is made up of bei "by, at" + Wacht "watch, vigil", the noun from wachen "to wake, watch, guard". The root here is clearly akin to English wake but also to witch, Wicca and wicked. How? Well, wickedness was associated with the activities of witches, but witches were originally seen as necromancers, people capable of waking the dead. (We would like to thank Larry Brady now for keeping a watch for curious words like this one, which he suggested for today's Good Word.)
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