• criterion •
krai-ti-ri-ên • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A standard or principle, possibly one of a set of standards or principles, upon which a judgment is based.
Notes: Today's word was originally a neuter noun in Greek and these nouns sometimes retain their Greek plural ending. Today's word is a case in point; the plural is: criteria (see also phenomenon : phenomena, tetrahedron : tetrahedra).
In Play: Look out for the tendency to use the plural of today's word in the singular (criteria "ARE" not "is"): "The criteria for measuring a good congressman are difficult to define, but they definitely include strength of character." Criteria can be set high or low: "The world-famous lion tamer, Claude N. Aiken, fully met Laura Mae's criterion for a husband: he can still breathe."
Word History: Today's Good Word was copped from Greek kriterion lock, stock, and spelling. The Greek noun comes from another noun, krites "judge, umpire", itself from the verb krinein "to separate, choose, judge". This Greek word has some interesting members of its extended family. The original root was kroi-/krei "to sieve, discern, discriminate". In today's word it appears with the suffix -t but with an -r it emerged in Old English as hridder, which somehow became hriddel, today's riddle in the sense of putting in a lot of holes in something (making it like a sieve). With the common Indo-European suffix -men, it comes up in Latin as crimen "judgment, crime", the source of English crime. (It would be a crime not to thank Mark Bailey for yet another Good Word meeting all of alphaDictionary's exacting criteria.)
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