Printable Version
Pronunciation: dæk-ti-lah-grê-fee Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)

Meaning: Fingerprinting or the study thereof.

Notes: Fingerprinting has become a highly sophisticated science within law enforcement, so it is not surprising that it has taken on a name reflecting its current status. A person who specializes in the dactylographic science is a dactylographer.

In Play: FingerprintFirst and foremost today's Good Word is associated with the world of fingerprintery: "Now my son—the kid who used to leave his fingerprints all over the house, is taking a course in dactylography at the Police Academy." As you can see, the term is generally restricted to the law enforcement arena: "Fortunately, whoever robbed the office lacked basic dactylographic skills and left plenty of fingerprint evidence for the police to work with."

Word History: Today's Good Word is a compound comprising two Greek words, daktylos "digit, finger or toe" + graphein "to scratch, draw, write." Greek daktylos is probably related to Latin digit, from which we derive digital as a result of humans having a finger count of exactly ten. Greek daktylos was borrowed as Latin dactylos "date", the fruit that looks like a finger. This word descended to Old French as dactele then dacte to ultimately become Modern French datte and, of course, Modern English date. The meaning of Greek graphein, slipped from "scratch" to "draw" then "write" because the ancient Greeks began drawing and writing with styli (styluses), scratching pictures and letters into wet clay or carving them in stone. The same root emerged in Old English as the name of that scratchy crustacean, the crabba "crab". The sense of "drawing" is retained in another form of this root English borrowed: graphic. (Today we point the finger of gratitude at David Stevens, a fellow traveler on Facebook.)

Dr. Goodword,

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