Printable Version
Pronunciation: fi-sip-pê-rês Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Reproducing by biological fission, splitting into two living organisms or cells, which may further divide. 2. Tending to break up into smaller pieces, especially if the pieces themselves split.

Notes: Linguistically speaking, today's Good Word appears to be the adjective of the verb fissiparate "to divide into parts that divide into parts" but the verb is used even more rarely than the adjective. This word may be used adverbially (fissiparously), of course, and it offers a selection of nouns: fissiparousness, fissiparation, fissiparism, and my personal favorite, fissiparity. (Hmmm. Is fissiparous fissiparous?)

In Play: Some small biological organisms and parts of organisms reproduce by fission: "When Gwendolyn saw her child pull an earthworm apart, she was glad to know that the worm was fissiparous." However, today's Good Word now applies to anything that splits into parts, such as the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. China is now worrying that it might be fissiparous. Religions have been fissiparous in the past, breaking apart into factional denominations and subdenominations based on different interpretations of their scriptures.

Word History: Today's Good Word is made up of Latin fissus "split" + parere "to give birth" + the adjective suffix -ous. Fissus is the past passive participle of the verb findere "to split". This same word went into the making of fission, which meant simply "splitting" in Latin. Its root, believe it or not, evolved from the Proto-Indo-European root bheid-, which came down to English as bite, bit, and bitter, the biting taste. The present participle of parere is paren(t)s "bearing, giving birth" or "someone who gives birth". (Now let's thank Jeremy Busch, whose parents must be proud of him when he uses Good Words like this one, which he suggested for today.)

Dr. Goodword,

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