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Pronunciation: sêr-kê Hear it!

Part of Speech: Preposition

Meaning: Approximately, around, about (used only with dates)

Notes: The association of geographically "around" and temporally "approximate" has been around a long time in Indo-European languages. We have around in English, rund in German, autour in French, okolo in Russian, and circa in Latin. Phonologically unrelated words with identical semantic relations. Circa is a lexical orphan.

In Play: This preposition is an oddity in English because it can only be used with dates: "Bill Jerome Holmes lives in a stately mansion built circa 1920." We might try to expand it to any time expressions: "I'll see you circa 5 o'clock." See how far that will get you.

Word History: Circa was taken whole from Latin, where it was a variant of circum. English borrowed this word, too, as a prefix in such words as circumspect and circumnavigate. Circum is the accusative case of circus "circle, ring", which English borrowed even before the existence of three-ring circuses. Circus was inherited from PIE (s)ker-/(s)kor- "to turn, bend" with a Fickle S. Without the Fickle S, this PIE word picked up a K suffix kerk-, to which Latin added its noun suffixes -us, -um, etc. The unreduplicated root, kor-, became curve in English, and ker- became ring, from old English hring, with the ubiquitous suffix -ing. English borrowed circle from Old French cercle. (Our prolific contributor William Hupy recommended today's historically fascinating Good Word circa 2010.)

Dr. Goodword,

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