• eccentric •
ek-sen-trik • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Unconventional, odd, peculiar, departing from the norm. 2. Not having a common center, off center, as an ellipse. 3. Not circular, not concentric.
Notes: Someone once said that only poor people are crazy; rich people are eccentric. Be that as it may, today's Good Word has a synonym with only the last two senses: eccentrical. However, to form the adverb of all senses you must use this form: eccentrically, as in 'to behave eccentrically'. The abstract noun is eccentricity. We may use the adjective itself for the personal noun: "Barry Moore is an eccentric extraordinaire."
In Play: This word is generally used in the metaphoric sense (Meaning No. 1): "Lilly White is an eccentric Southerner who thinks 'damn Yankee' is one word." However, people aren't the only thing that may be eccentric: "Horace brought us here by an eccentric route that took half an hour longer."
Word History: English borrowed today's word from Medieval Latin eccentricus "not having the same center" via Middle French eccentrique. Latin borrowed this word from Greek ekkentros "out of the center, off center", composed of ek- "out of" + kentron "center". Ek- goes back to Proto-Indo-European eghs "out (of)", which turned up in Latin as ex with the same meaning. We see this prefix in many Latin words meaning "out(side)" that English borrowed: external, exterior, and extreme, for example. Greek kentron came from the verb kentein "to prick", leading to the conclusion that the original PIE word had this meaning. Other evidence of this meaning may be found in Breton kentr "spur" and Welsh cethrenu "to goad", which seem to share the same source. (We now offer our gratitude to Gordon Wray, a Canadian engineer who loves poetry, for recommending today's Good Word via the far from eccentric Alpha Agora.)
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