Printable Version
Pronunciation: chahrm Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, Verb

Meaning: 1. A magical spell or power, an incantation that supposedly casts a magical spell on someone. 2. Any delightful quality that attracts; captivation or the ability to captivate. 3. A small attractive ornament, such as might be worn on a bracelet.

Notes: We have a substantial family surrounding today's word. Charmless is an adjective meaning "without charm". Charming is the antonym of charmless, meaning "having (much) charm (in the second sense above)". It comes with an adverb, charmingly. A charmer is someone who charms in either of the first two senses of the word. Today's Good Word itself may be used as a verb, meaning "to use a strange power of persuasion".

In Play: We have many things that we consider lucky charms: a rabbit's foot and a four-leaf clover would have to head the list. The charms on a charm bracelet were originally considered good luck amulets, but nowadays they symbolize important events we wish to remember, if they serve any purpose at all. The verbal sense of this word refers to mysterious powers of persuasion, susceptible to hyperbole: "Maisy could charm the horns off a billy-goat."

Word History: Today's Good Word is Old French charme "spell, incantation, song" with the final E docked. Old French picked up this word from Latin carmen "song, verse, enchantment", the noun from the verb canere "to sing". The original root ended on an N, but that sound "dissimilated" to R in Latin before M, since Latin didn't tolerate two nasal consonants in a row. So, the underlying Proto-Indo-European could also go on to produce French chanter "to sing", another descendant of Latin canere (without a subsequent M). We came upon the original meaning of charm through the notion of chanting to cast spells of magical powers. Finally, the same PIE word went on to become Hahn "rooster", the singer, in German, and on to hen in English. (We would be amiss if we didn't credit the charming Ellen Adams for suggesting today's magically Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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