Printable Version
Pronunciation: e-kê-lay-li-yê Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)

Meaning: The repetition of words spoken by others, common among small children learning to speak and people suffering from certain types of mental disorders.

Notes: Although echolalia is used almost exclusively in the field of medicine, we will see below too many casual uses for it to let it languish in medical dictionaries. Someone engaged in echolalia is echolalic, speaking echolalically. (Don't forget to insert the meaningless suffix -al before the adverb suffix -ly.) A person exhibiting echolalia would be an echolalic.

In Play: Now for some nonmedical applications for today's word: "That toady, Neil Downe, repeats everything the boss says as though he were suffering from echolalia." Get the idea? "Sue Persilias and her echolalic assistant Mimi Kerr came to the office this morning and explained the new company policy on ridiculing management—twice." How have we lived without it?

Word History: Today's Good Word is a compound of Greek echo "echo" + lalia "talk", a noun from the adjective lalos "talkative, loquacious". Echo probably originated in a word with a Fickle S that remained in some languages and not in others, probably something like (s)wogh-/(s)wegh- "to sound" in Proto-Indo-European. If so, it is related to English sough "murmur, rustle" and sigh. Without the initial S, the W would become V in Latin, allowing the same root to become vagire "to cry", the source of English vagitus "new-born baby's cry". Lalos was probably onomatopoetic, imitating the sound "la-la-la-la", often associated with speech. (It isn't just echolalia when we offer our thanks to Carla Puky for suggesting today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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