• galaxy •
gæ-lêk-si • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A huge aggregate of stars and associated matter held together by gravitational attraction. 2. A large number of related things. 3. (Capitalized) The Milky Way, the star system to which Earth's sun belongs.
Notes: Today's word is the center of a large family of words referring to galaxies and milk. The adjective for galaxy is galactic, that can also mean "enormous, vast". It comes with an adverb, galactically. Galactic may also be used in reference to milk, as 'galactic acid' (= 'lactic acid'). It appears in many compounds, such as galactopoiesis "production of milk" and galactorrhea "overproduction of milk" by the mammary glands. 'Battlestar Galactica' was a spaceship in a series of the same name on US television.
In Play: Here is the way we would use this word capitalized and uncapitalized "The earth's Galaxy is a disk-shaped galaxy with approximately 100,000 million stars." You might come across the figurative sense in expressions like this: "Smart phones opened a whole galaxy of possibilities that were not available before."
Word History: Today's Good Word was picked up from French galaxie, passed down from Latin galaxias "the Milky Way". This Latin noun was a copy of the Greek adjective galaxias in galaxias kyklos "milky circle" (= "Milky Way"). Greek and Latin inherited their words from the same PIE word, glakt- "milk". For some reason, neither Greek nor Latin liked this particular combination of GL, but they dealt with their dislike in different ways. Greek added an A between the G and L; Latin just dropped the G to produce lac, lactis "milk". That is why English has both lactic and galactic acid—it borrowed the word from both languages. We find remnants of the PIE word in Armenian kat'n "milk", and Albanian dhalle "buttermilk". French, of course, turned Latin lac, lactis into lait, as in 'café au lait', and Italian, into (caffè) latte. The Germanic and Slavic languages chose the PIE synonym for "milk", melg-, which had turned into English milk and Russian moloko by the time it reached those languages. (Let's all now thank Anna Jung for suggesting we do today's highly complex yet fascinating Good Word.)
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