• funicular •
fyu-nik-yê-lêr • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Rope-like or having a cord, rope, or cable. 2. Operated on or by a cable. 3. Related to a funiculus: the umbilical cord (also called a funis in medicine), the spinal cord, or any bundle of nerve fibers.
Notes: The actual meaning of today's Good Word is in the process of being replaced by its use as a noun, the shortened form of funicular railroad or funicular car. Today this word more readily brings to mind a cable car or mountainside railway on which the cars are pulled up and down by a cable rather than by an engine. This word only means related to a rope or cable, though, as the examples below will show.
In Play: Let's start with the obvious: "Halfway up the mountain the funicular broke down and the passengers had to finish the climb up the slope on foot." This word offers far more opportunities, however: "Rose Gardner put up a decorative funicular fence around her yard." She also has ferns in funicular pots hanging from the ceiling of her porch. Indeed, Rose often wears funicular braids around San Francisco, where they call their funicular trolleys cable cars.
Word History: Funicular was a word created from the borrowed word funiculus "a slender rope" by adding the adjective suffix -ar. Funiculus is the diminutive of funis "rope, cord", a word with a cousin in Greek: thomigz "cord". This suggests that both words came from an older Proto-Indo-European form dhu-niz. We would expect a word from the same source to be spelled, roughly, dun- or don- in Germanic languages like English, but we find nothing like this. There are also no suspects in the Slavic languages like Polish, Russian, and Serbian. (Thanks to Jack Adams for getting today's Good Word to us without the use of a funicular railway.)