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Pronunciation: fort-nait Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: Two weeks, fourteen days

Notes: This term is rarely used in the US, but I hear it occasionally in British films. It is in a class with stone "14 pounds", score "twenty", and twain "two"—an oddity of numbering. Dozen for "twelve" is one such oddity that made it successfully into the mainstream vocabulary. The only family fortnight has is fortnightly, which serves as both an adjective and adverb. Why fortnight and not fortday? The early Germanic peoples counted days as beginning at night, as do the Semitic peoples to this day. In other words, they counted nights rather than days.

In Play: This word allows little wiggle room in its usage; it is narrowly defined as are most words whose meanings include numbers: "The course promised mastery of Portuguese in a fortnight, but at the end of it, students could speak the language only brokenly." I can think of no figurative usages: "We enjoyed two springs that year: the first when we visited South Carolina in May, and the second, a fortnight after our return to Northern Michigan."

Word History: This word is a contracted form of Old English féowertýne nihta "fourteen nights". English has a similar word, sennight "seven night old, week's", now archaic, originating in the phrase seofon "seven" + nihta "nights" (nihta = the plural of niht). This word was usually used in reference to the stages of the moon. Night has cousins throughout the Indo-European languages: German Nacht, French nuit, Spanish noche, Punjabi nisa, Russian noch', Greek nuks, Latin nox, and Sanskrit naktam "at night". It probably goes back to the Proto-Indo-European word that underlies Latin niger "black", which is today negro in Spanish. (We need now to thank Albert Skiles for suggesting today's Good Word about a fortnight ago.)

Dr. Goodword,

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