Printable Version
Pronunciation: fik-êl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Capricious, unpredictable changeable, disappointingly erratic.

Notes: This is a word, as today's suggester correctly pointed out in the Agora, that I use frequently in referring to the various Fickle Ns and Ses that have emerged and disappeared over the course of the history of the Indo-European languages. I explain that usage here. The noun and adverb coming out of this word are what you would expect: fickleness and fickly, respectively.

In Play: Today's Good Word originally meant "deceptive", and a hint of disappointment resides in this word even today: "Every time Kaye Syrah embarks on something really great, the fickle finger of fate flips her the bird." She doesn't let it get her down, though. Can you guess why? The word is most commonly used in the sense of "unfaithful" when speaking of people: "June McBride could not take the fickleness of Phil Anders, so she settled for William Arami."

Word History: Today's word in Old English was ficol "deceitful, deceptive", related to befician "deceive" and to facen "deceit, treachery". Before Old English, even before Proto-Germanic, it was Proto-Indo-European *peig- "evil-minded, hostile". This word emerged in Latin as piget "it irks, displeases", and piger "reluctant, lazy". With a different suffix, it became German Fehde "feud" and English feud. The only other languages where it appears to have emerged are Latvian, where it is today pikùlas "devil", and Lithuanian, where it has become pìktas "angry". (Lest I seem fickle with my gratitude, let me now thank Perry Lassiter, a Grand Panjandrum in the Alpha Agora, for suggesting today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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