Printable Version
Pronunciation: kah-mên-weel Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. The common good, public good, general welfare, well-being of a society. 2. The public, a community, a body of people sharing an interest.

Notes: Commonweal underlies commonwealth, so commonwealths like Massachusetts and Pennsylvania were originally conceived of as organizations for the common good of their citizenries. Today's word was once used as a phrase, the common weal, when weal meant "good" like its granddaughter, well. In fact, the OED claims that this word is today properly spelled as two words.

In Play: The basic meaning of today's Good Word refers abstractly to a good that is shared by all: "Presidents should base their decisions on the commonweal, not on private interests." However, it may now be used to refer to a group of people defined by their venue: "Uncle Earl's store served as a gathering place for the Eastover commonweal, a place where people could come to talk, commune, and share stories."

Word History: Common came from Old French comun "common, general, public", from Latin communis "in common, public, shared by all". This word came from PIE ko-moin-i- "held in common", a compound adjective formed from ko- "together (with)" + moi-n-, a suffixed form of root mei-/moi- "to change, go, move". The second element of the compound also is the source of Latin munia "duties, public duties, functions", underlying the English borrowing municipal. Old English gemæne "common, general", and German gemeinsam "common" come from the same source.

Weal in Old English was wela "well-being, prosperity", hence weal's position in wealth. It was the usual translation of French bien commun "common good" and Latin res publica "public things". Wela comes from PIE root wel- "to wish, will", also the source of the English auxiliary will, Sanskrit vrnoti "chooses, prefers" and varanam "choosing", Latin velle "to wish, will, desire", Russian volya "will, intention", and Lithuanian velyti "to wish". (Let's now thank George Kovac for suggesting today's uncommonly Good Word for the commonweal of the Good Word readers.)

Dr. Goodword,

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