Printable Version
Pronunciation: fed-êr Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. Shackles for the feet, a chain fastened to one or both feet that prohibits escape. 2. A restriction or restraint, something that hampers our progress or holds us back.

Notes: Today's word, unfortunately, is still used in both the meanings given above. Even if only one foot is restrained, this word is usually used in the plural: to put someone in fetters or to fetter them (the noun may be used as a verb). Fetters are shackles of lighter weight. Shackles are inescapable; fetters imply a greater potential of escape.

In Play: Shackles is the preferable term for the leg irons used in prisons today, since escaping from them is highly unlikely, but today's word is also acceptable: "The prisoner hobbled into the courtroom in handcuffs and fetters." We are more likely to use this term in its metaphorical sense, however: "Habits can become fetters on our mind that prevent us from seeing beyond our nose."

Word History: Today's Good Word is one of those rarities we enjoy so much when we encounter one: an authentically English word not borrowed from some other language. It originally meant something like "footer", for it comes from the Proto-Indo-European word pod-/ped- "foot". This is also a rare perfect example of the historical rules that PIE [p] becomes [f] and [d] becomes [t] in Germanic languages, for English foot came our of it, while it emerged in Greek as the pod- that we see in tripod. Latin chose the e-form: the Latin root for "foot", ped-, can be seen in the English borrowings pedal and pedestrian. (Today we thank the unfettered mind of Gail Granum for seeing the value in today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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