Printable Version
Pronunciation: flee-ding Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Evanescent, ephemeral, very, very brief, short-lived, quickly fading.

Notes: Fleeting is a nearly unique lexical phenomenon: a disyllabic English word whose pronunciation is identical with its spelling! It supports only an adverb, fleetingly.

In Play: Glimpses are all fleeting for they are, in fact, fleeting looks. So, saying 'fleeting glimpse' is equivalent to saying, 'a very fleeting look': "William Arami caught a fleeting glimpse of what seemed to be affection in June McBride's one good eye." Moments are also fleeting seconds, so rather than say, "very momentary", we often say, "fleeting moment": "For a fleeting moment June thought she might pity William."

Word History: Old English had two verbs meaning "to float", fléotan and flotian, the results of PIE ablaut, the seeming interchangeability of o/e. The former became fleet and the latter, float. Fleet became obsolete two centuries ago, so the participle, fleeting, became an isolate allowing the meaning to slip to where it is now. Fléotan came through Old Germanic from PIE pleu-/plou-/plu- "to flow", also the source of ancient Greek plein "to sail", Sanskrit plu- "to swim, float" and Latin pluere "to rain". The same PIE word also produced Dutch vlieten "to flow", German fließen "to flow" and Fluss "flow, river", Swedish flyta "to flow, float", and Danish flod "river".

Dr. Goodword,

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