• cinereous •
sê-nir-i-ês • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Like ashes, especially in color, ashen, gray, salt-and-pepper (hair, feathers). 2. Otherwise like ashes, such as food cooked to a crisp.
Notes: According to the Oxford English Dictionary, cinereous occurs fewer than .01 times per million words, yet it belongs to a large lexical family. This family includes two synonyms, cinereal and cineraceous, plus another adjective with a similar meaning, cinerary "related to ashes", as 'a cinerary urn'.
In Play: Cinereous is most often used to describe feathers: "Harold was happy to see a cinereous vulture carry away his dog that had died only recently." However, it almost as often is used to refer to the color of hair: "She had hardly changed at all since he last saw her 20 years ago. Only her hair had changed from brunet to a rather fetching cinereous color."
Word History: Today's Good Word is an only slightly modified copy of Latin cinereus "ashen", the adjective for cinis, cineris "ashes". Latin inherited this word from PIE word keni-/koni- "dust, ashes", source also of Greek konis "dust". This word also underlies Latin incinerare "burn to ashes", the past participle of which, incineratus, went into the making of English incinerate. In English it ended up as cinder, apparently borrowed from French cendre "ashes", a descendant of the same Latin ceneris. These are the only reliable traces of the PIE word found in modern Indo-European languages. (Newcomer Mark Schultz found this word and shared it with us; we should all be grateful.)
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