• constellation •
kahn-stê-lay-shên • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A recognized grouping of stars in the celestial sphere. 2. An assemblage of prominent people or things. 3. A large configuration of related items or ideas.
Notes: Today's Good Word has a verbal back-formation, constellate "to form a group or cluster", as 'hills constellated with lights'. It is accompanied by two adjectives, both rarely used: constellatory and constellational.
In Play: A very minor poet once wrote:
A minor galaxy of lightning bugs
Maneuvers my backyard's evening,
Pinpoint memories of day in their bellies.
They arise in free-floating constellations:
Without gravities and making up their
Own relativity as they revolve.
Since fireflies (or lightning bugs), resemble stars, they provide the perfect metaphor for today's Good Word.
Word History: Middle English borrowed the Old French word constellation that French inherited from Latin constellatio(n). This word comprises con- "(together) with" + stella "star". Latin inherited the root of this word from PIE ster- "star", also the origin of English star. In Latin the R changed to L because Latin used a suffix, -la which didn't get along with the R, so ster-la became stella. Greek added an A to the beginning to produced aster "star", a word we now use to name a flower. Asterisk came from the diminutive of aster, asteriskos "little star". Finally, English strew apparently comes from the same PIE root because the night skies seem strewn with tiny lights.
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