• careen •
kê-reen • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb
Meaning: 1. (Transitive) To turn (a ship) over on its side for cleaning and repairing. 2. (Intransitive) To rush headlong, swerving and tilting at high speed; to pitch or tilt to one side.
Notes: Today's Good Word was brought to Jon Freeman's attention listening to Carlotta's song "I'm Still Here" in Stephen Sondheim's Follies. In this song Carlotta croons that "Then you career from career to career". In singing so, Carlotta succumbs to a confusion of the obsolete verb career "to run headlong" with today's word that has plagued speakers of US and UK English for decades. The verb career became obsolete in the late 19th century, but its meaning is so close to that of today's word, it has been a long time dying. Also keep carom "to bounce off" discrete from careen, another potential source of confusion.
In Play: Today careen can mean racing at such a high speed as to barely maintain control of your vehicle: "When Randolph heard that Phil Anders was at Randolph's girlfriend's house, he went careening down the street on his bike like he was on fire." It can also mean to tilt or even pitch over: "Rick O'Shea turned the corner so fast, his car careened and turned over."
Word History: Today's Good Word comes from the Middle French word carene "keel". French inherited this word from Latin karina "keel" which, used as a verb, meant "to keel (a ship)", that is, turn it on its keel. Karina originally meant "nutshell", though, which explains how the same original root (Proto-Indo-European kar-) ended up in English as hard. This sense is not too far removed from that of Greek kratos "strength, power", also from kar-, which we find in such words as democracy "power by the people", and various other '-cracies'. (We hope that today's contributor, Jon Freeman, didn't careen any in getting this Good Word to us.)
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