Printable Version
Pronunciation: braid-êl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, verb

Meaning: 1. The headgear used to control a horse or other animal, comprising head straps, reins, and a bit (see picture). 2. (Noun) A curb, restraint, as 'put a bridle on spending'. 3. (Verb) Put a bridle on a horse. 4. (Verb) To restrain, curb as 'unable to bridle one's excitement'. 5. (Verb, intransitive) To be resentful, take offense, especially if indicated by raising the head and drawing in the chin.

Notes: BridleHere is a word that has come a long way semantically. It brought along with it two adjectives, a positive one, bridled "having a bridle", and a negative one, bridleless. The semantic track should be clear from the order of the verbal meanings above. For some reason a path for horseback riding is called 'a bridle path'.

In Play: The metaphorical meaning of the noun comes up in expressions like this: "Myna Byrd cannot keep a bridle on her tongue; she says whatever pops into her mind." We could say as well: "She cannot bridle her tongue." As for the ultimate sense of the verb, we might hear: "Farnsworth bridled at being told not to pick his nose at the dinner table."

Word History: Old English bridel "bridle, restraint" from Proto-Germanic bregdilaz, source also of Dutch breidel "bridle" and English braid. In Old English braid was bregdan "to move quickly, shake, weave, combine". The semantic notion favoring bridle would be of something that is shaken or something that was braided. The best guess is that Germanic languages inherited its word from PIE bhrek- "to crowd together, condense", found also in ancient Greek phrassein "to fence" and Latin farcire "to stuff, fill", inherited by French as farce "stuffing; prank, joke". When English borrowed this word, it dropped the literal meaning and went with the figurative one. (Now a round of applause for Arnaldo Mandel, who saw the semantic interest in today's Good Word and recommended it.)

Dr. Goodword,

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