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Pronunciation: kahn-stêm-payt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: 1. Clog, obstruct, get in the way of, slow the passage of something. 2. Cause constipation.

Notes: We often hear the past participle of this word (constipated), but we hear the other forms of this verb less often. The historical semantic shift of this word is called 'narrowing', since its usual sense refers only to clogging of the bowels. The noun is constipation.

In Play: A US anthropologist studying peoples of the jungle ate something that constipated him. He asked the local witch doctor what to do. The witch doctor showed him a fern that helped his people. Next day, the witch doctor returned to ask how everything came out. The anthropologist replied, "Fine: with fronds like this, who needs enemas?" However, constipation may occur wherever we find any kind of flow: "Don't constipate the conversation with irrelevant anecdotes."

Word History: This word was derived from the past participle, constipatus, of Latin constipare "to pack, cram, squush together", comprising com- "(together) with" + stipare "to stuff, cram". The origin of the Latin verb is Proto-Indo-European st(e)ip- "(a) stick; stiff", which also produced Greek stipos "thick, packed" and Russian stebel' "stalk, stem". We also find its progeny in the Baltic languages: Latvian stiba "stick, branch" and Lithuanian stebas "pole, mast". In the Germanic languages, it became German steif "stiff" and English stiff.

Dr. Goodword,

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