• capricious •
kê-pri-shês • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Given to sudden changes in behavior ostensibly without reason, on a whim, whimsical, impulsive.
Notes: Today's Good Word is the adjective made from caprice. It apparently its origin has no relation to caprine "goat-like, related to goats" (but see Word History). Since capricious ends on the suffix ous, it paves the way for another noun, capriciousness, whose meaning overlaps that of caprice.
In Play: Anything with unpredictably whimsical behavior may be called "capricious": "Gilda Lilly chases the capricious trends in fashion more than even Maude Lynn Dresser." Spring weather is notably capricious; so is the stock market, though its capriciousness is known better as "volatility".
Word History: The noun underlying today's good adjective is French caprice "whim", borrowed from Italian capriccio "tantrum, whim, caprice". This word is a reduction of caporiccio "fright, sudden start" under the influence of capra "goat", because of goats' frisky movements. Caporiccio originally meant "hedgehog head", since a frightened animal with hair standing on end is apt to make sudden starts. Capo is the Italian remnant of Latin caput "head". Latin took this word directly from Proto-Indo-European kaput- "head", which is the origin of the English word head. Head started out in Old English as heafod, with the PIE [k] converting as it should to [h] and [p] to [f]. Kaput also went into the making of a series of words based on the metaphorical meaning of "head": captain, capital, and decapitate. (We thank Norman Neuberger III for recommending today's Good Word, and hope it wasn't just a capricious effort on his part.)
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