Printable Version
Pronunciation: i-fe-mê-rêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Lasting one day only. 2. Very short-lived, fleeting, lasting extremely briefly.

Notes: Today's Good Word still pops up occasionally in its original sense. For example, insects that live for only a day are ephemeral insects, diseases that last but a day are ephemeral diseases, or you might suffer an ephemeral fever. The scientific cause of a bad hair day is the ephemeral ague. Ephemerality is the noun and ephemerally, the adverb of this absolutely lovely adjective. An ephemeron (plural ephemera) is anything that survives for only a short time, but especially literary works of little interest.

In Play: The most widespread use of the word is to refer to events of exceedingly short duration: "An ephemeral smile jostled her lips at his joke; her attention then quickly returned to the filet." This word is a good one because of its phonetic beauty and its reference to pleasant things that do not last long enough: "Her ephemeral romance with the president left her more lonely than famous."

Word History: This word was borrowed from Greek ephemeros "lasting a day; daily" from epi- "on" + hemera "day". The pronunciation really should be a far less lovely [ep-he-m-rl], but the P became F in Greek, giving us the lovelier word we have today. The Greek preposition epi "on" shares its origins with Latin ob "to, toward" and Russian o(b) "about, around". Neither this root nor that of hemera seems to have survived in the Germanic languages.

Dr. Goodword,

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