Printable Version
Pronunciation: kahn-stê-tyu-shun Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. The act of making, establishing, as the constitution of the world as we know it. 2 The way something is made up, the physical nature of an object, the condition, as the constitution of the university, or human constitution. 3. The basic law of the body politic, the basic set of laws by which a nation or state is governed.

Notes: Today's Good Word covers a variety of senses from "my morning constitutional", a walk I take to maintain my physical constitution, to the fundamental law of a country. This word is based on the verb constitute "make up, comprise", and it comes with a large family of derivational relatives. Constitutional is the adjective, as just observed. Constitutionalism is the belief in the use of a legal constitution, and someone who holds this belief is a constitutionalist. Countries without a constitution are constitutionless.

In Play: At the outset of the 112th and 113th US congresses, the House of Representatives devoted the entire first day to reading the US Constitution aloud; presumably, some members were unfamiliar with it. Let's not forget the other meanings of constitution: "Jack Hammer is a man of strong constitution; his job gives him a workout every day." (Can you guess what Jack does for a living?)

Word History: The verb upon which today's Good Word is based, constitute, comes to us from Latin constitutus "arranged, settled", the past participle of constituere "to set up, establish" and, when speaking of persons, "to appoint to an office". The prefix com- "(together) with" + the root of statuere "to set" constitute the verb from which today's Good Word was created. A host of English words, borrowed and unborrowed, shares the provenance of this word. Status, constant, and instant stand among the borrowed words. Stand itself comes with the unborrowed lot, as does steed, the lively horse known for his rearing upright, and stud, the way many steeds ultimately pay for their keep. (Fay Poole thought that this word would constitute a very topical Good Word, for which we all owe her a debt of gratitude.)

Dr. Goodword,

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